Wolf’s Newest Education Funding Scheme

When Gov. Wolf finally agreed to sign the majority of an emergency funding bill, it remained unclear how his administration would distribute the increased education funding approved by the legislature. Without passage of an Education Code—legislation typically enacted in conjunction with an appropriation bill—the governor had no specific instructions for doling out education dollars.

Wolf is taking full advantage of this opening to distribute funds in a highly political “formula” that ignores the recommendations of the bipartisan education funding commission. On Monday, the administration announced a “hybrid funding formula that would have been fully enacted as part of the bipartisan framework budget agreement.”

From the Department of Education, here’s what Wolf’s hybrid-formula essentially boils down to:

  1. Line item veto roughly $3 billion in education funding (continuing a political game of chicken and setting the stage for further student hostages)
  2. With the remaining funds: send each district the same amount it received in 2014-15.
  3. With the new, increased education funding (prorated over six months, thanks to Wolf’s veto):
    1. Send out $50 million based on the allocation of the previously eliminated Education Assistance Program
    2. Send $12 million to Chester-Upland School District
    3. Send $3 million to Wilkinsburg Borough School District
    4. The rest is distributed to districts on a pro-rated basis to restore federal stimulus dollars which expired 2010. Although the Department of Education intentionally mischaracterizes these funds as “cuts under the previous administration,” the only true cut to state education funding occurred last week, when Wolf vetoed $3 billion.
    5. The governor uses a portion of the increased Ready to Learn block grant to subsidize districts with high levels of charter school enrollment

Wolf is distributing education dollars on a whim, on his decree. What is listed above is not a formula; it is a political scheme. If not for Wolf's $3 billion education funding veto, this highly-politicized formula would be unnecessary. Instead of providing dollars based on enrollment or student need, Wolf is creating winners and losers as he sees fit.

The School District of Philadelphia, for example, receives more than 36 percent of the new education funding. Wilkinsburg Borough SD receives a 46 percent increase over 2014-15 levels and Chester-Upland receives a 25 percent increase. The average district receives 2.76 percent more than last year’s appropriation.

Speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Republican staffers indicate that Wolf’s “formula” is not, in fact, related to any framework budget agreement:

At the state Capitol, legislative Republicans took issue with how the Wolf administration plans to distribute the money.

“We’re still reviewing the numbers at this point,” said Jennifer Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre. “It doesn’t appear to adhere to anything that we had talked about in the framework, but this governor has certainly proven he wants to do things his own way.”

“He just chose to do it his own way,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans. “We’re still trying to determine exactly what type of formula he used to do it.”

Where do we go from here? The governor should release the billions of education dollars he’s currently withholding—providing the largest state support of public schools in Pennsylvania history—and the legislature should approve an Education Code that distributes those dollars based on the Basic Education Funding Commission’s student-based formula.