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Pennsylvania public school associations react to budget passage

The dome of the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
Commonwealth Media Services

With the school year starting later this month, passage of the state budget could not have come soon enough for some public education groups.

The budget bill that passed Aug. 3 includes $567 million for basic education, which includes public elementary, middle and high school education. It is the second-largest budget amount for basic education since 2015.

Groups that represent public schools praised the budget bill.

Andrew Christ, senior director of education policy at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, is grateful the impasse was relatively short and ended before the school year began.

“We’re very appreciative of the increases that the Governor and General Assembly have given public education,” Christ said. “And we’re very appreciative that the budget impasse was not an extended one.”

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The House passed a budget in June. The Senate passed its version hours before the midnight deadline on July 1, with a $100 million school voucher program that Gov. Josh Shapiro supported, but House Democrats were against.

To avoid a protracted impasse, Shapiro announced he would line-item veto the program. The following week, the House passed the amended budget with the knowledge that the voucher program would be vetoed.

In order for the budget to be sent to Shapiro’s desk, it needed to be signed by Senate officers, who would not return until early August to complete the budget process.

Once they did return to finish it, Shapiro vetoed the program.

Republican legislators have criticized Shapiro for reneging on his promise to fund the program.

The PSBA supports the veto, Christ says – especially given the Commonwealth Court ruling in February that the state’s system of funding schools is failing the ones in poorer districts.

“We don’t believe that now is the time to talk about devoting public resources towards private school vouchers,” Christ said.

The PA Schools Work campaign is also celebrating the passing of the budget and the vetoing of the voucher program.

In a statement, the campaign thanked Shapiro, saying “vetoing the new voucher program will prevent additional precious dollars from being diverted away from Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million public school students.”

Proponents of the voucher program argue that it gives students in failing schools an opportunity to succeed at a different school.

“Today’s vote will leave students and families who desire choice, who want nothing more than the opportunity for a better education and a better future out in the cold,” Minority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said on the night of the vote.

Although most of the budget is complete, several important programs, including Level Up, still require additional legislation for the funding to go through, Christ said.

Read more from our partners, WITF.