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Christopher Dornblaser, Bucks County Courier Times
Gov. Tom Wolf signed a state budget with the largest investment in education funding Pennsylvania has ever seen.
With a historic $416 million boost for public education, the state budget aims to push the commonwealth toward a post-COVID recovery, officials said.
“This is a budget that invests in Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said. “It is a budget that will help those hit hardest by the pandemic get the support they need, while at the same time making crucial investments in our future by supporting the students and workers who will drive our economy forward in the years to come.”
Budget investments include a $200 million increase in the Fair Funding Formula, enacted in 2016 for equitable state education funding across school districts; $50 million more for special education funding; a $20 million hike in funding for the Ready to Learn block grant; and an additional $100 million to support underfunded school districts through the Level Up initiative.
Also included in the budget is a $72.7 million subsidy for secondary career and technical education programs across the state.
For the coming school year, Bucks County school districts will be allocated an estimated total of $154.4 million. That’s about a $5.8 million increase from last year’s funding.
In May, local superintendents and school administrators gathered to call upon state legislators to increase what they called essential school funding amid their difficulties in balancing budgets.
Even with the additional funding included in this year’s budget, some, including education coalition PA Schools Work, feel it’s not enough.
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“This budget’s increased investment in public schools does not come close to backfilling the increase in mandated costs to school districts over the last two years, much less the needed investments to offset continued inadequacies in state funding,” the organization released in a statement.
“Despite claims to the contrary, Pennsylvania’s share in funding schools is still one of the lowest in the country and local taxpayers still shoulder the heavy and unjust burden of providing most of the funding for public schools.”
Bristol Borough is the only school district in Bucks County to receive a Level Up supplement for the coming school year, data shows, with $143,205 set aside for the program.
Superintendent Rose Minniti says while her district is thankful for the Level Up supplement, the new formula used to calculate how funds will be distributed takes funding away from their total amount for next year.
“We’re the only school district, I believe, in Bucks County that loses funding, so the Level Up funding still leaves us $3,600 short of the funding that we received last year,” Minniti said.
Without the Level Up funding, she explained, Bristol Borough School District would be over $100,000 short of last year’s basic education funding, which totaled $6,882,432.
“With all the additional funds that are going into the budget for school districts, you know, it’s very disheartening to us that our kids in the lower part of the county who need it the most are getting less funding,” Minniti said.
Morrisville School District Superintendent Jason Harris plainly stated that while he’s also grateful for the funds, the $3.6 million his district is being allocated for next year isn’t sufficient for supporting its needs.
Last year, Morrisville received just over $3.1 million in basic education funding.
“We were excluded from the Level Up funding, which was really disappointing,” Harris said.
Like Minniti, he takes issue with the formula.
“We are consistently underfunded by the state, and we’ve actually asked the governor to look at the formula because we believe that formula is not accurate,” Harris said.
“We rely on grants and one-time funding to plug gaps, but it’s not sustainable with the rising costs of charter schools, pensions and special education,” he said.
Here’s a closer look at the funding being allocated for school districts across Bucks and Montgomery counties for the 2021-22 year.
In Montgomery County, the North Penn School District is expected to receive an estimated $11,811,117 for basic education, $6,749,047 for special education and $577,539 for Ready to Learn.
The state budget includes more than $2.3 million for the Hatboro-Horsham School District’s special education funding, over $5.5 million for basic education and $270,230 toward Ready to Learn.
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The 2021-22 state budget includes Secondary Career and Technical Education subsidies for tech schools in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
Bucks County Technical High School will receive an estimated total of $1,348,878, to be split among the six school districts that provide its students.
Middle Bucks Institute of Technology has an expected allocation of $617,123 for each of its four school districts.
The budget allocates $595,196 for Upper Bucks Technical High School’s three sending school districts.
Montgomery County’s Eastern Center for Arts and Technology will be allocated $402,022 for its eight sending school districts, which include Hatboro-Horsham.
For a full breakdown of the state budget and estimated funding for local school districts, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website.