Wolf plan for $200 million in Pa. education funds creates winners and losers, GOP charges

Some school districts

Some school districts

The fight in Harrisburg over how $200 million in new Pennsylvania education aid should be divided continues.

Although Gov. Tom Wolf allowed the state budget to become law in late March, he vetoed the fiscal code that, in part, served as a roadmap for how new education funding would be distributed.

As passed by lawmakers, the fiscal code directed all new education money through a student-weighted funding formula, as recommended by a bipartisan commission.

Wolf argues that districts disproportionately hurt by cuts that occurred under former Gov. Tom Corbett should be made whole before adopting the new formula.

“Right now, only 4 percent of districts across the state have seen their funding restored to 2010-11 levels, and we’re over $370 million short of fully restoring the cuts,” said Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan.

Spreadsheets and details of Wolf’s plan can be viewed here.

Republican leaders say Wolf’s unilateral action is illegal, and they are contemplating a lawsuit.

To be clear, all districts will receive more state aid than last year.

But in a graph of the state’s 500 school districts, GOP lawmakers show that 423 districts would have gotten a larger boost if Wolf had green-lighted their plan to apportion all new money through the student-weighted formula.

“Now he’s throwing it away for literally his own crafted budget, and he is creating winners and losers,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for the House GOP.

Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said lawmakers have been getting angry phone calls from constituents who feel slighted by the governor’s tactic.

“A lot of our constituents, a lot of our people, were saying, ‘We want more money for schools.’ So our members, the senators, voted for more money for schools,” said Kocher. “But half of that money went to three school districts.”

The biggest winner in this case — with a $76.8 million boost — is the School District of Philadelphia, which has been reeling for years from state cuts that forced resource deficiencies and numerous local tax hikes.

Other districts that fare particularly well under Wolf’s plan include Pittsburgh, Wilkinsburg, and Chester-Upland.

But districts that would have done better under the Republican plan include other impoverished urban districts of Reading, York, Scranton, Erie, Allentown and Harrisburg.

“Keep in mind that some of these districts have already seen their funding restored,” said Sheridan.

This debate may spill over into the next budget battle, as the Wolf administration says it will continue to prioritize restoration.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.