HARRISBURG – Officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Education struggled to answer questions about Gov. Josh Shapiro’s broad higher education concepts and wide discrepancies in K-12 education funding during a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee today.
Democrats on the Basic Education Funding Commission called for a $5.4 billion increase in Basic Education funding over the next several years. Gov. Shapiro is proposing to increase Basic Education spending by nearly $1.1 billion in his 2024-25 spending plan, but his proposed budget shows no increases in Basic Education funding after this year, raising concerns that the administration cannot pay for the billions of dollars in promised new education spending without raising taxes.
Committee members raised questions about whether the lack of funding in future years offered a false view of the true cost of Gov. Shapiro’s spending plan. The Independent Fiscal Office testified last week that the governor’s budget would eliminate all budgetary reserves and emergency savings by 2026-27, and also understated spending and overstated revenues by approximately $14 billion through 2028-29. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee believes that deficit to be $20 billion based on historical spending averages.
The governor’s idea of merging the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) and the state’s community colleges was also scrutinized by both sides of the aisle. Last week, PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein testified that he was not involved in the planning process of the governor’s plan, and as a result, he could not answer detailed questions about the plan.
During today’s hearing, Education Secretary Khalid Mumin acknowledged the concept was not bill-ready and characterized the plan as “wet cement.”
Sen. Martin on the need for more educational options for students, flaws in the governor’s budget math, closing educational gaps that emerged during the pandemic, the benefits of the Safe2Say anonymous threat reporting system, the importance of supporting career and technical education, and more
The partisan Basic Education Funding Commission report supported by the Shapiro administration last month called for $1.1 billion in new K-12 funding each year through 2028-29, but the governor’s budget does not include these increases beyond next year. This raised serious questions about whether the Shapiro administration was purposefully underselling the full cost of his spending plan over the next five years.
Questions about the lack of a long-term plan on education funding and reform were raised. The education secretary could not lay out a plan to pay for the billions in new education spending recommended by the Basic Education Funding Commission’s majority report. Concerns were raised about whether the Shapiro administration is being fully transparent about the full costs of its education funding goals.
Secretary Mumin received criticism for not attending a single meeting of the Basic Education Funding Commission, and for withholding support for an alternative report that would have left funding decisions in the hands of the General Assembly and the administration.
Concerns were raised that the governor’s plan to flat-fund K-12 schools could lead to planning difficulties for school districts and potential property tax increases for local taxpayers. Additional questions were shared about how the administration would ensure schools would receive the proper amount of funding.
The department was questioned about the proper level of reserves that school districts should maintain. School districts currently hold reserves totaling nearly $6 billion.
Gov. Shapiro’s budget also proposed flat-funding for special education services after the 2024-25 budget year. Concerns were raised about the potential impact of this idea on vulnerable student populations.
In future years, the Shapiro administration is including reasonable projections of growth for budget items like pensions, but did not include the same assumptions of growth in other educational programs.
The administration’s lackluster support for career and technical education was questioned, especially in light of growing demand for these educational services.
The lack of details about the governor’s blueprint for higher education was roundly criticized. Sec. Mumin acknowledged the concept was “wet cement” and not bill-ready.
Concerns were raised about the fact that many of the key details about the governor’s higher education plan were not shared with PASSHE Chancellor Greenstein prior to his testimony last week.
Questions were raised about why the governor’s higher education plan focuses on building capacity, even as enrollment systemwide continues to decline.
Concerns were raised about the lack of attention to libraries in the governor’s budget proposal.
Gov. Shapiro’s deep proposed cuts to cyber charter schools could have a negative impact on many public school students, including some young people who are already struggling academically.
Details were shared about the department’s support for distressed schools.
You can find recaps and video from every Senate budget hearing at PASenateGOP.com.
CONTACT: Jason Thompson