Partners Post: June/July 2018

State budget prioritizes investments in schools, students, and safety

Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law a bipartisan budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year that makes critical investments in public education.

The state budget must be passed each year by June 30, and this was the first time in more than a decade that lawmakers and a governor achieved an early state budget.

This year’s budget includes $6 billion for basic education funding, providing critical resources to meet school districts’ basic needs. Gov. Wolf, working in partnership with Republican and Democratic lawmakers, secured an additional $100 million in basic education funding for 2018-19, bringing the total increase over four years to more than $538 million.

In addition to the school funding increases, lawmakers enacted the following initiatives:

  • A comprehensive approach to improving school safety,
  • New rules to enhance school district outsourcing transparency,
  • A delay in the Keystone Exam graduation requirement until the 2020-21 school year,
  • A fix to the school code, recognizing the importance of teachers’ other certification areas in furlough situations, and
  • Vocational certification improvements.

By the numbers: Reversing the nearly billion dollar cut

Basic education funding was cut by nearly $1 billion in 2011. Since taking office in 2015, Gov. Wolf has worked with lawmakers from both parties to reverse school funding cuts and invest in our public schools.

Together, lawmakers and the governor worked hard to craft a budget this year that makes public education a priority. Here are the highlights:

  • $100 million increase for basic education funding.
  • $15 million increase for special education funding.
  • $30 million increase for career and technical education initiatives.
  • $25 million increase for pre-kindergarten and Head Start funding.
  • $6.9 million increase for community colleges.
  • $15 million increase for PA State System of Higher Education schools.
 

Enhancing school safety

Tragedies in schools and communities have led to increased concern for school safety. Therefore, Gov. Wolf and lawmakers made school and community safety a priority in the budget.

Lawmakers approved a separate bill (now Act 44 of 2018) that provides school districts $60 million in school safety grants for a menu of security, training, prevention, and counseling programs.

It also created the “Safe2Say” program that will provide a safe and anonymous way for parents, school staff, students, and community members to report dangerous or criminal acts, threats, or instances of bullying. The program will be based on a system established in Colorado after the 1999 Columbine school shooting. PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office will oversee the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Outsourcing transparency in school districts

School districts will be required to be more transparent when considering outsourcing of services to private companies. Privatization, or outsourcing as it is commonly known, occurs when a school district turns over the performance of a noninstructional service or department to a private company.

In the past, many private companies seeking a contract for work in school districts did not have to provide empirical evidence to support claims that they would provide quality services at a certain rate. Now, the new law will require school districts to provide a public review, identify costs, and hold a public hearing prior to the subcontracting of services or jobs. It will also ensure that if employees are to lose their jobs with the school district, they will receive consideration for jobs, including an interview, with the private company.

Keystone Exam graduation requirement delayed again

Lawmakers delayed the Keystone Exam graduation requirement — again.

The Keystone Exams are end-of-course assessments in Algebra I, literature, and biology that are required for federal accountability purposes. During Gov. Tom Corbett’s tenure, these high-stakes tests were designated as high school graduation requirements for students.

Concerned policymakers once before delayed the graduation requirement. For years, they have been seeking common ground to ensure students have multiple pathways to demonstrate their readiness for graduation.

Last month, lawmakers extended the moratorium on the graduation requirement until the 2020-21 school year. Students will still be mandated to take the Keystone Exams, but their scores will not affect their ability to graduate.

Prioritizing STEM and career and technical education

Finally, the budget lays out a plan to provide workforce training, improve STEM, and invest in career and technical education programs. CTE programs will see a $10 million increase in state funding next year.

Lawmakers also approved changes to reduce the burdensome certification process for vocational educators, helping to attract and retain the best and brightest in this field.

  
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