There should be no greater priority for our government than educating our children, and my 2017-18 budget proposal reflects my administration’s continued commitment to fairly funding public education in Pennsylvania.
Over the past two years, instead of allowing schools to become the first casualty of our budget deficit, we’ve made them our first priority. We reversed nearly two-thirds of the $1 billion cut made to our public school system in 2011, making the largest investment to public education — $640 million — in the history of the commonwealth.
Struggling schools across Pennsylvania are getting back on stable financial footing. Parents and teachers no longer have to spend their summers worrying about whether the school doors will open each fall. And when I travel the state now, I visit more and more school districts where, instead of scrambling to make ends meet, they’re expanding the programs available to students — and expanding the opportunities these students will have once they graduate.
But we haven’t solved every problem in our education system. This budget proposes an additional $125 million for K-12 classrooms, $75 million to expand high-quality early childhood education, and $8.9 million for our state system of higher education. This investment at all levels will be the largest in the history of the commonwealth — a total increase of $856 million since I took office.
This budget also includes a significant additional investment in early childhood education. Children who participate in high-quality pre-k programs perform better in school, graduate at higher rates and earn more throughout their lives compared to peers without access to early learning programs. Building upon $60 million in additional investment over the past two years, this nearly 40 percent increase in funding will allow more than 8,400 additional children to enroll in Pennsylvania Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Assistance Program.
In addition to increasing funding, we’re also working to address accountability in schools, and how taxpayer dollars are spent. In addition to the K-12 and higher education investments, this budget also tackles several key issues currently facing many districts that will help ensure state funding reaches the classroom directly.
School districts transport well over a million students each year, but the formula that provides state funding to transportation companies was originally enacted in 1972, with only slight modifications in the year since. My budget includes a plan that will reduce pupil transportation costs by updating and simplifying an outdated transportation funding formula will incentivize efficiency and reflect actual costs, including fuel prices, district geography, and vehicle utilization, while saving taxpayers $50 million.
Building on my vision of a holistic education system focused on future academic and workforce success, I am also proposing an additional $2 million in state funding — while leveraging $1 million in federal funds — for school improvement efforts at three districts serving 15 persistently low-achieving schools.
We know that research has demonstrated that breakfast is the most important meal of the day in impacting a variety of children’s outcomes including academic progress and mental health. This budget will provide better access to school breakfast programs with a $2 million investment in state funds to leverage and maximize up to $20 million in federal funding to enhance current programs.
The future of Pennsylvania depends on making investments in what matters. We cannot get ahead if our schools fall behind. Fighting for fair and increased education funding for all Pennsylvania schools continues to be my top priority as your governor.
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