Mar. 07, 2022

HARRISBURG – Today the House Appropriations Committee held its eighth day of budget hearings. The committee heard from the Department of Education (PDE).

The governor proposes to increase basic education funding by $1.55 billion, which would be a 24% increase:

Total PreK-12 funding would increase by $2.03 billion, or 15%. 
While the governor takes sole credit for increases in education funding, we were reminded that Gov. Wolf didn’t sign three of the budgets under his tenure, accounting for half of the increase.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, three federal relief packages provided over $6.5 billion to Pre-K through 12 education in Pennsylvania:

To put this into perspective, the state’s 2021-22 budget provided just over $6.5 billion in basic education funding to school districts.
According to the state’s accounting system, more than $5 billion in federal funds remain at PDE as school districts have not yet sought reimbursement for the majority of these funds. Schools have until September 2024 to seek reimbursement.
PDE also told us that federal funds can be used by schools to solve issues like lead-based paint in schools.  Watch Rep. Doyle Heffley (R-Carbon) ask about the use of federal funds here.

The governor and PDE have hindered efforts to pass comprehensive charter school reforms:

During questioning, Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Fulton) discussed how some provisions of PDE’s proposed regulatory changes are simply unworkable.  He also said that the proposed $371 million cut to charter schools will have a detrimental impact to those schools, after so many families voted with their feet during the pandemic.
Secretary Noe Ortega conceded that students and families were voting with their feet during the pandemic, with an increase in families seeking online charter education.
See their exchange here.

Ortega sent a letter to the Tamaqua School Board threatening that board members could be personally sued for not following the Health Secretary’s mask mandate, which was subsequently thrown out by the state Supreme Court:

When Ortega tried to hind behind not being a lawyer, Rep. John Lawrence told him, “don’t give me that!” 
Lawrence told Ortega the letter was reckless and unacceptable, and also turned out to be incorrect. Watch the exchange here.

House Republicans led the effort to ensure our school districts were fully funded in 2020, despite the uncertainties around COVID-19:

Every time House Republicans stood up for students and families over the past two years, House Democrats have consistently voted no.
When House Republicans established a budget in May 2020 that funded most of state government for five months, while fully funding our school districts, House Democrats again voted no.  As Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) reminded us, only one political party played politics with education during the pandemic.  Watch his comments here.

Rep. Stan Saylor, Chairman
House Appropriations Committee
Pennsylvania House of Representatives