HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Pennsylvania is in the best financial shape it’s ever been in with a budget surplus and rainy day fund totaling billions of dollars.
Some say a chunk of that money should go to inequitably funded schools. Others say that would be a fiscal folly.
Pennsylvania is sitting on a pile of cash, most of it from the federal government, and public school advocates have their eyes on it, especially after a state court ruled that Pennsylvania is unconstitutionally underfunding education.
“As we all knew, the way we fund education is immoral but also unconstitutional. And the governor and general assembly are going to have to take some steps with some big dollars very soon,” said Marc Stier of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
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The left-leaning Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center estimates that schools need $4 billion on top of the historic school funding provided under former Governor Tom Wolf, and argues a piece of the surplus would help.
“We need a gradual ramp up in the funding as well as more equitable funding, and that’s part of the equation too. So when we ask, ‘Is there a problem?’ in the future it’s not just meeting current bills, it’s meeting a constitutional requirement to fund schools fairly,” Stier said.
Republicans argue that math doesn’t add up.
“It’s great the budget and policy center wants to spend money like that, with the ongoing costs and a one time lump sum. But, unfortunately, it would not work with the current tax structure,” said Pennsylvania House GOP Leader Bryan Cutler.
Republican House Appropriations Chair Seth Grove argues that the surplus is one-time money, and giving it to a recurring expense like schools is a recipe for disaster.
“Literally, you’re creating a self-imposed fiscal cliff,” said Grove.
School choice advocates are claiming victory from the recent state court ruling.
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The conservative Commonwealth Foundation says the Commonwealth Court wants a new funding formula and agrees a new formula would open the door to school choice.
“The court did not say spend more money,” said Nate Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation.
“What you need to have is money following the child, allowing them to pick the best school for their needs,” said Benefield.
The state house is expected to be organized next week and the next big date is March 7, when Governor Josh Shapiro will give his first budget address.