Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed an approximately $30 billion state spending plan for fiscal 2015-16 that includes some aggressive new investments in education, for both early learners and K-12 students. Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) has reviewed some of the more notable areas of the governor's budget proposal that impact the commonwealth's children. Here is our recap:
The governor's proposed budget would increase basic education funding in fiscal 2015-16 by $400 million, bringing total basic education funding to $6.13 billion. The additional funding amounts to a 7 percent increase to this line item, which is the core funding source for educating every public school student in the commonwealth.
While the governor's budget address did not provide detail on a long-term funding formula for public education, PPC is optimistic a predictable, sustainable funding formula will be part of budget-related discussions as the Basic Education Funding Commission continues its work. Recently, the Campaign for Fair Education Funding (of which PPC is a founding partner) outlines its vision for a basic education funding formula – a vision that calls for the infusion of an additional $3.6 billion in new state investments in public education over the next six to eight years to ensure every student has the resources necessary to succeed academically.
Special education would increase by $100 million to about $1.147 billion under the governor's spending plan. State funding for special education has increased only once in the past six fiscal years (a 2 percent increase in fiscal 2014-15) and this nearly 10 percent increase in special education funding would be unprecedented.
The governor has strongly prioritized the expansion of high-quality pre-kindergarten in his spending plan, calling for an additional $120 million to benefit more young learners. This includes nearly doubling the funding for Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts to $197.3 million in fiscal 2015-16, up from the current $97.3 million this year. Funding for the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program (HSSAP) would be increased by $20 million for a total state allocation of $59.2 million.
Aside from these new investments, other early learning line items would be level-funded in the governor's spending plan, including:
The spending plan does anticipate federal increases to the Child Care and Development Block Grant and TANF that would allow an additional 3,600 children to be served off the waiting list (through an $18 million increase), boost reimbursement rates for STAR 3 and 4 facilities (using an additional $11 million in funds) and create an infant/toddler add-on rate (using an additional $2 million federal investment).
The proposed budget includes a more than $40 million increase for county child welfare services, in part to help address increasing caseloads and investigations into reports of abuse and neglect. The governor is proposing an $8.2 million increase to further develop Pennsylvania's Child Welfare Information System, which handles information related to child abuse reporting and child welfare services.
The governor's proposed 2015-16 budget decreases state funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) by $84 million. The bulk of this reduction is based on the expectation that federal financial reimbursement for CHIP will increase from the current 66 percent to 89 percent, thus enabling the state to scale back its CHIP appropriation by about $63 million, along with savings already achieved through the movement of approximately 30,000 children from CHIP to Medicaid in 2014.
The governor's budget also proposes a new investment of $25 million for an initiative called "Closing the Coverage Gap," intended to provide health insurance coverage for an additional 15,881 children.