PennLive: Gov. Tom Wolf lauds “major commitment” for new school funding; Republicans describe different terms

By Charles Thompson

The Wolf Administration claimed a major victory in its protracted negotiations for a new state budget: a large increase in state aid to schools for the current academic year.

But, as if to underline the fragile nature of the ongoing talks, the two major parties gave different spins Monday on what, exactly they had agreed to.

Wolf’s Press Secretary Jeff Sheridan touted what he said was a two-year commitment to raise the state’s major pre-school and basic education line items by $750 million through this year and next.

Senate Republican sources, meanwhile, quickly clarified that what they have agreed to thus far is $400 million in spending growth in this budget year, with talks on pre-school funding still to be finalized.

On a day filled with mostly good vibes, the difference could be more a sign that the concrete hasn’t dried on many of the still-emerging details of a delayed budget framework for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

All sides acknowledged there is not yet agreement, for example, on how Wolf and the GOP-controlled legislature would drive out the new dollars to the state’s 500 school districts.

But here’s where the language was consistent Monday:

* The delayed budget will contain a $350 million increase in the state’s basic education subsidy, the main source of state aid to k-12 classroom instruction. Wolf had initially sought $400 million in new funding.

That increase would increase this line from $5.53 billion last year, to $5.88 billion, in a line that represents nearly one out of every five dollars spent in the state’s $30 billion general fund.

* It will also carry $50 million growth in state funding for special education services, bringing that line to just under $1.1 billion. Wolf’s initial proposal was for an additional $100 million.

Both sides also confirmed Monday that the framework deal being patched together will include a 5 percent increase in aid to the both the state-owned and state-related universities.

“That’s what we’re carrying right now,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said of the higher education increase.

Where things got murkier was in the area of pre-kindergarten services. Sheridan said the GOP leaders have given a commitment for an additional $50 million increase there, while Senate sources said that number remains under negotiation.

And then there’s 2016-17.

Sheridan claimed the Republicans’ commitment is for an additional $300 million in new spending in 2016-17, with $200 million for basic education, and another $50 million each for special education and pre-k.

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