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Pennsylvania Legislature Approves Education Bills, Excludes Level Up Funding
After nearly six months since the start of the 2023-24 fiscal year, the state Legislature has passed bills for education funding on Wednesday. House Bill 301 and Senate Bill 843, which can be found here and here respectively, allocate millions of dollars from the state for various education-related initiatives.
The previously halted HB 301 designates over $300 million for libraries and community colleges, $100 million for school mental health services, and $175 million for school facility repairs.
Out of the $175 million allotted for school facility repairs, including the removal of mold and asbestos, $100 million will come from funding previously designated for the Level Up program, which prioritizes the 100 poorest school districts in the state.
State Representative Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) explained that this change was proposed as a compromise by lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled House to the Senate, which is led by Republicans and did not support the measure.
“Given what we’ve seen from the Senate, they weren’t going to accept it [Level Up] so we compromised on more money for facilities,” Schweyer told the Capital-Star.
The bill also designates $150 million to the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, which offer tax incentives to businesses that make monetary donations to scholarships and other educational funds throughout the state.
These programs have faced criticism from Democrats and advocates for public schools, who argue that they are discriminatory and favor private schools. However, House Republicans have celebrated the funding in a statement made on Wednesday evening.
“Thanks to the hard work of Pennsylvania Republicans, we can ensure the continuation of programs that prevent children from failing alongside Pennsylvania’s failing education system,” remarked Joshua Kail (R-Beaver).
Republican leaders claim that the delay in passing the school code and fiscal code, which are typically passed at the same time as the general appropriations bill for the budget, has deprived community colleges, libraries, and 911 centers of funding since July, when a disagreement over a proposed school voucher program caused an impasse among lawmakers.
“I think what we’ve seen is a consistent failure of leadership on behalf of the House Democrats in terms of actually completing the budget on time,” stated Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “You saw the spectacle that was just on the floor regarding what they did want to spend time on, which is really unfortunate,” continued Cutler, referring to a debate on a resolution honoring singer Taylor Swift. “It’s been a lot of wasted time and opportunities.”
Over a month after the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, Governor Josh Shapiro signed an incomplete $45.5 billion budget while negotiations continued.
These bills will now be sent to Governor Shapiro’s desk for final approval.