Wolf Misleads About Education “Cuts”

On Christmas Eve, Gov. Tom Wolf posted a blog attacking Republicans and the “extremist” budget now sitting on his desk—which passed the Senate on a bipartisan 33-17 vote. Wolf claims it “cuts” funding for public schools, while the “framework” budget presents an increase for public schools.

It is difficult to understand, much less justify, Gov. Wolf’s shoddy claims.

  • Under HB 1460, the budget sent to the governor on Dec. 23, “Support for Public Schools”—a subtotal of education spending that excludes higher education, nonpublic school funding, and library subsidies—would increase by $404 million.
  • The increase for public schools in the “framework budget,” which would require hikes in the income and/or sales tax to fund, was $672 million (a difference of $269 million).

PA Budget Education Spending HB 1460

So why does Wolf consider HB 1460 a “cut”?

School Funding Less Pensions

Perhaps Gov. Wolf is excluding the costs of pension contributions in his comparison.  His logic: While taxpayers will pay more, this funding cannot be used to hire more teachers.

In both the framework budget and the enacted budget, state payments to public schools for pension costs would increase by $567 million. Taking this funding away does make it appear that funding is being cut—but doesn’t explain Wolf’s position.

  • Under HB 1460, public school funding minus pension costs would decline by $163 million.
  • Under the “framework,” public school funding minus pension costs is increasing by $106 million (a difference of $269 million).

School Funding Excluding PlanCon

All of the “cuts” are in the line item called “authority rentals and sinking funds requirements”—a program known as PlanCon. These are reimbursement for school construction projects.

This funding is not actually being cut. Rather, the proposal shifts this from an ongoing expense—part of the budget—to a capital project funded with a $5 billion bond issue. This shift would occur in both the framework budget and HB 1460

Schools would actually get more funding for construction, even though the line item in the budget is being reduced. (As a consequence, annual state debt payments will increase in future years).

 Figuring in PlanCon adjustments changes the dynamic dramatically:

  • Under HB 1460, public school funding excluding the PlanCon shift would increase by increase by $711 million.
    • Taking both PlanCon and pension reimbursements out of the equation means a $143 million increase.

In every scenario, the difference between HB 1460 and the “framework” is $269 million in support for public schools.

What about Under a Veto

Should Wolf choose to veto this budget again, he would be denying $10.466 billion in public school funding—a new record high. Instead, schools would get nothing.

   2014-15 Available  HB 1460 Difference
Support of Public Schools $10,061,550 $10,465,948 $404,398
Authority Rentals and Sinking Fund Requirements  $306,198 $0 ($306,198)
School Employees' Retirement $1,157,853 $1,725,000 $567,147
Public School funding excluding Pensions $8,903,697 $8,740,948 ($162,749)
Public School funding excluding Plancon $9,755,352 $10,465,948 $710,596
Public School funding excluding Pensions & Plancon $8,597,499 $8,740,948 $143,449