Public schools to be primary beneficiaries in year one of Pa’s share of American Rescue Act dollars
It looks like public education will be one of the big winners in Pennsylvania’s new budget plan, thanks to Washington DC
In addition to a $ 300 million increase in the annual grant from Basic Education to Kindergarten to Grade 12 systems – the major unrestricted state credit that districts rely heavily on to meet their needs general budgets – the 500 public school districts are also expected to share a large chunk of the $ 7.3 billion federal dollars allocated to Pennsylvania as part of the US bailout.
Multiple sources have confirmed to PennLive in recent days that the still-emerging state budget plan will put $ 500 million in funding over the bailout dollars, as a one-time line that school boards will be tasked with using. for non-recurring capital expenditures. such as ventilation system upgrades, technology purchases, asbestos and lead removal, and other capital expenditures.
Negotiators in the Republican-controlled General Assembly and the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf are putting the finishing touches on a plan that could be presented to grassroots lawmakers today. The general fund budget and related legislation are expected to be in place at the start of July 1 of the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree that there is no shortage of such unique projects in schools, whether it’s improving physical facilities, upgrading technology, or making schools safer.
“My greatest hope is that the schools in Philly, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars, can finally, finally, make up for it. asbestos and lead paint they have been dealing with for decades. That’s what they should be doing with this money… I hope and pray that they will be able to complete these much-needed projects with this funding, ”Senator Camera Bartolotta, of County R- told PennLive. Washington.
“And in my area, I have schools with leaky roofs. They didn’t have enough Chromebooks or laptops to give to kids who had to study at home. And so, it will go a long way in upgrading much of the necessary technology.
“But that’s not an ongoing thing … And it’s something that we really need to get this message out to home.”
While Republicans who control the General Assembly are determined to keep up to $ 6 billion in federal funds aside until they have a better idea of how post-pandemic tax collections are going. To shake up over the next few years, this is an area where Democrats who are in the minority in the state House and Senate – who generally wanted to spend a lot more – can claim a victory.
Sen. Vince Hughes and Representative Elizabeth Fiedler, both Democrats from Philadelphia, introduced a bill earlier this year that would allocate $ 600 million in US bailout funds to the state Department of Education, to be distributed as grants to remedy lead, asbestos and other toxins currently in schools across the Commonwealth.
“What message do we send to our children when we send them to buildings that are collapsing, which are poisonous, which are poisonous, which are infested? Hughes asked at a rally on Capitol Hill with allies from schools and the building trades last week. “We have the money to fix these things. It’s time to put it to work.
Now it looks like one of the bigger chunks of Pennsylvania’s American Rescue Act allowance will do just that.
Every interest group imaginable has aligned itself with demands for a share of federal funding.
Republicans insist on saving the lion’s share, believing that the current increase in state tax revenues is fueled by a major infusion of federal dollars into the economy during the pandemic. Once that gets through the economy, they think it’s very likely that the state’s tax collections will decline, leaving the state in a deficit for current spending by 2023-24.
Still, several sources familiar with the budget talks told PennLive that about $ 1 billion or more in federal funding will be allocated this year.
In addition to public schools, the sources said two likely winners in the race for increased funding are nursing homes, which occupy a weak spot in the hearts of many lawmakers given the toll the pandemic has taken on their lives. residents and their finances, and the construction of highways.
On transportation, sources said Senate GOP Leader Kim Ward of R-Westmoreland County has been pushing to use part of that kitty to fund transportation needs. This is a consequence of the Wolf administration’s announcement last fall that it was at risk of canceling hundreds of road projects due to a collapse in gasoline tax funding due to the pandemic. .
In a legislative hearing last fall, Secretary of State for Transport Yassmin Gramian said cutting travel during the pandemic resulted in a loss of $ 500 million to $ 600 million in gasoline tax and other income.
The goal of the transportation allowance, House Republican spokesman Jason Gottesman said over the weekend would be to keep Pennsylvania’s ongoing highway program from disruption while everyone waits to see if the Biden administration and Congress implement an improved federal infrastructure spending program later this year.
Entering this week, it also emerged that there was a bipartisan consensus emerging to do something to help the long-term care industry in general, although it was not immediately clear whether that is helping – which according to one source, could reach around $ 200 million – will come in the form of direct subsidies to operators or increased payment rates for Medicaid-funded services.
A bipartisan deal also appears to be emerging on a special allocation of around $ 50 million to the Pennsylvania state higher education system to help Chancellor Dan Greenstein move forward with his proposal to overhaul the state university system, although that it is not immediately clear whether this was part of the federal funding allocation or was to be funded from other sources.
Greenstein has proposed a series of measures that he hopes will help the 14 universities in the system – which have experienced declining enrollment across multiple campuses – regain a stronger financial footing to keep tuition affordable while at the same time keeping it low. preparing for an increase in enrollment through new academic offerings.