The good news and bad news about education funding
The good news is — as I write this column — Pennsylvania has enacted a spending plan for the 2017-18 Fiscal Year that includes $15 million in additional state funding for the Erie School District, which was my number one priority for this budget. Under the spending plan for FY 17-18, which the legislature passed at the end of June and became law on July 10 without the governor's signature, the Erie School District will receive $14 million in Educational Access Program Funding. In addition, Erie's Basic Education Funding goes from $63.2 million to $64.2 million, an increase of $1.05 million, or 1.7 percent. The District's Special Education Funding from the state goes from $10.2 million to $10.5 million, an increase of $296,718, or 2.9 percent.
Overall, this increase was great news for the community. It also represents the culmination of a strong, unified effort that ultimately transcended party affiliation and brought the Senate, House and governor together to respond in a magnificent way to our local needs. We, need to thank my colleague Senator Scott Wagner, who lit a fire under this issue, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Senator John Eichelberger, who brought his committee to Erie in May for a public hearing on the Erie School District's financial crisis. Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera also visited Erie on two occasions, once to tour our schools and meet with school district officials and legislators and then again to provide his thoughts during the Education Committee's public hearing. And certainly, we also need to thank Senate leadership, namely Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne. They listened to our requests for help and championed our cause during the negotiations that resulted in the spending plan that is now in place.
This truly is momentous and much needed. Just before the Senate voted on the spending plan for FY 17-18, I sat down and did the math. It would have taken about a 35 percent increase in local property taxes in order for the Erie School District to raise the money it needs. Obviously, a tax increase of that magnitude would ravage this city and many people, especially low-income families and senior citizens on fixed incomes. Realistically, that wasn't going to happen. Thankfully, with the extra state money forthcoming we don't have to consider the alternatives that would have faced our city's schools and their students.
Now, the bad news – as I write this column — is the various "code" bills (School Code, Fiscal Code, Tax Reform Code, Human Services Code) that provide the revenue to fund the state spending plan have yet to be finalized. That means the increased support for the Erie School District is only for the current fiscal year at this point. Hopefully, the code bills – once they are finalized — will lock in the increased funding for the Erie School District as a permanent recurring expense. That has now become my number one priority and I am optimistic that we can reach that goal soon.
Senator Laughlin encourages local residents to visit his website, www.senatorlaughlin.com, and his Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/senatorlaughlin/, to keep up to date with state government news — including the state budget — and learn more about state services and agencies.