At its core, education should be a bipartisan issue. I feel both Republicans and Democrats can mutually agree on these core principles: our children require and deserve a quality education; the learning environment for students and educators should be safe; and those teaching our children should be capable and passionate educators.
The accord, sadly, deteriorates when the discussion turns to methods of funding. Education spending represents 35% of the state’s total operating budget, which was roughly $15.77 billion last year. And despite historic funding increases year over year, my far-left colleagues will tell you the budgeted dollars never seem to be enough.
Early in 2023, the Commonwealth Court deemed our education funding system unconstitutional, and directed lawmakers to develop a remedy with attention to adequacy, equity and timeliness. In response, the Commonwealth’s Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC), a commission with a heavy liberal bias, hosted 11 hearings across the state to gather input from public school finance experts, education advocates and others. Recently, in a near party-line vote, the commission adopted recommendations on how to fund the future of our education system.
The adopted BEFC report calls for more than $7 billion in new spending on PreK-12 Education over the next seven years. The report also calls for a $291 million increase in spending for school districts. That means higher property taxes for you.
When added with the state’s current structural deficit of $1.8 billion – and without accounting for any other increases which may be in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s 2024-25 budget proposal – the Commonwealth needs to find $8.9 billion in recurring revenue. Where? How?
In simple terms, there will need to be an increase in our state income tax by almost a percentage and a half to cover this spending spree, bringing the state income tax rate from 3.07% to nearly 4.5%. Even more concerning, this $7 billion is a conservative estimate. Other initiatives highlighted in the report have the potential for billions more in spending.
In short, the BEFC report is not based in reality, nor is this a workable solution for our budget circumstances. If these recommendations are adopted, we will see increases in both local school property taxes and our state taxes. The prudent measures the General Assembly has taken over the past several years to ensure our sound financial footing will be evaporated as neither our General Fund nor our Rainy Day Fund reserves, nor a combination thereof, is enough to cover these recurring costs.
The issue of adequate and equitable funding is daunting, but taxpayers deserve careful spending. We have an opportunity before us to improve and upgrade our system; instead the commission has opted for a “just throw money at it” proposal. Pennsylvanians deserve a more judicious approach.
Representative Jonathan Fritz
111th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Melissa Fox
RepFritz.com / Facebook.com/RepFritz