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HARRISBURG, PA (Feb. 3, 2021) – PSEA President Rich Askey issued the following statement on Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed 2021-22 budget, which he unveiled today:
Basic Education Funding
The governor’s plan would significantly increase state basic education funding and distribute it through the state’s fair funding formula.
“We commend the governor for his ongoing commitment to public education,” Askey said. “There is nothing more important than investing in our schools and students. Gov. Wolf has been a leader on these issues, and PSEA looks forward to a continued partnership with him and lawmakers from both parties to ensure our students are successful and our schools are fairly funded.
“Like PSEA, Gov. Wolf has made it a priority throughout his term in office to advocate for equitably and adequately funding all of Pennsylvania’s schools. These issues are very important to PSEA, and we are grateful that this historic proposal elevates these critical issues.
“We look forward to fully reviewing this plan and identifying opportunities for PSEA to work with the governor and the Legislature to find the best and fairest way possible to achieve greater equity and adequacy in school funding. This is an issue that PSEA has long championed and will continue to do so.”
Special Education Funding
The governor’s plan also includes a $200 million increase in special education funding.
“We welcome the governor’s proposed special education funding increase, which will ensure that students with special needs continue to receive high-quality special education services,” Askey said. “This investment will also give our special education teachers the tools they need to prepare their students for future success.”
Head Start and Pre-K Funding
PSEA welcomes Gov. Wolf’s plan to invest more in Pre-K Counts and the Head Start Supplemental Program.
“Investing in high-quality early child education pays dividends down the road,” Askey said. “Children who have access to these opportunities are more likely to graduate high school and earn more as an adult. This proposal is good for public education, and it’s also good for the future of our economy.”
Raising PA’s Minimum Educator Salary
Gov. Wolf is again proposing to raise the minimum educator salary from $18,500 to $45,000 per year — a major priority for PSEA.
“Educators play a crucial role in their students’ lives and shouldn’t have to scrape by to make ends meet,” Askey said. “Right now, thousands of hardworking educators are taking on second and third jobs and still don’t earn enough to raise a small family. Raising the minimum educator salary will help those educators and encourage even more talented young people to enter this profession and stick with it.”
Tax Credit Accountability
Askey also praised the governor’s proposal to create greater accountability for scholarships provided to students through the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). Under the proposal, scholarship organizations, which receive tax credits in exchange for providing scholarships, will be required to report more information on scholarship recipients and their educational outcomes.
“These programs have received hundreds of millions of state dollars over the years, but a lack of accountability and transparency means policymakers have little information to evaluate if the program is working,” Askey said. “This proposal will improve accountability and help ensure students who receive scholarships are getting a high-quality education.”
Askey noted that Gov. Wolf’s charter school reform proposal is an important issue that PSEA looks forward to discussing further.
“Gov. Wolf’s charter school reform plan is a significant step toward the kinds of reforms that PSEA has been encouraging for years,” Askey said. “It’s long past time that we fund charter and cyber charter schools in a way that is fair, transparent, and accountable. We are looking forward to partnering with the governor and legislators to explore how we can achieve that.”
Nellie Bly Scholarship
If enacted, the governor’s Nellie Bly Scholarship for students attending Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education schools would achieve one of PSEA’s top policy priorities — reducing student loan debt. It would also help attract more college students to pursue a career in education, a critical need as the state confronts a growing educator shortage.
College graduates in Pennsylvania have the second highest average student loan debt in the nation, averaging $39,027 for members of the graduating class of 2019, according to the Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access and Success.
“Staggering levels of debt present a real barrier to attracting talented young graduates to the education profession,” Askey said. “Helping young educators reduce their heavy student loan debt will encourage more talented and diverse people to enter the education profession.”
Addressing Pandemic Concerns
“We also recognize that as the state economy struggles under the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, many public schools are facing serious financial challenges,” Askey said. “PSEA plans to work with Gov. Wolf and legislators to make sure that our schools have the funding they need to educate Pennsylvania’s students, reduce COVID-19 health risks, and protect the educators and support professionals who have done such incredible work during the pandemic.”
Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and the president of PSEA. An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 178,000 active and retired educators and school employees, student teachers, higher education staff, and health care workers in Pennsylvania.