A look at the 2020-2021 stopgap budget: How Pa. is paying for k-12 schools and higher ed. | The Numbers Racket

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Last week, we took a first glance at the 2020-2021 stopgap budget, looking at how appropriations had changed for state agencies such as the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, as well as the Departments of State, Military and Veteran Affairs, and Community and Economic Development. 

This week, in part two of our look at the five-month budget plan, we’ll go deep on the changes being made to funding for K-12 schools, higher education and pension funds, according to an analysis by Democratic staff on the House Appropriations Committee.

Education

The stopgap budget suspends the fair funding formula for basic and special education.  However HB 1210, which is included with the budget specifies that each school district will receive the same amount of funding in 2020-2021 as they did in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. 

House Bill 1210, sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones, R-York, repurposed the School Safety and Security Fund to provide COVID-19 Disaster Emergency School Health and Safety Grants for 2020-2021.

School safety grants to cover laptops, hand sanitizer in 2020

According to the House Appropriations Committee, $215 million is available from the following sources:

  • $150 million from the Coronavirus Relief Fund
  • $49.8 million from the State Education Agency portion of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund
  • $15 million from the existing transfer from the Judicial Computer System Augmentation Account

The COVID-19 Disaster Emergency School Health and Safety Grants will be distributed as follows:

  • Each school district will receive $120,000 plus an estimated $67 per student
  • Each charter school, intermediate unit, and area career and technical school will receive $90,000
  • $7.5 million is available for nonpublic schools to apply for $10,000 maximum grants
  • $7.5 million is available for the existing Community Violence grant program

Two education appropriations will receive an increase in funding from their 2019-2020 budget:

  • PSERS – a $74 million, or 2.8 percent, increase to cover the actuarially required contribution.
  •  Pupil Transportation – a $157 million, or 28.6 percent, supplemental increase for 2019/20 to backfill underpayments from prior years, and for 2020-2021, a $62.9, or 11.5 percent, increase compared to the 2019-2020 level to right the appropriation.

Higher Education

According to the Appropriations Committee, higher education in Pennsylvania, including PASSHE schools and state-related universities will receive the same level of funding in the stop-gap budget as they did in 2019-2020.

However, some Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars will be doled out to specific higher education needs. They include: 

  • $30 million for PASSHE universities, distributed based on fall 2019 headcount enrollment
  • $30 million for PHEAA grants, increasing the maximum grant award to $4,525 (previously $4,123)
  •  $5 million for institutional assistance grants to support private colleges and universities
  • $5 million for the Act 101 program, which provides grants to schools for services to academically at-risk students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds seeking an undergraduate degree.
  •  $2.2 million in federal funds for a new debt relief program. These resources will provide an interest forbearance program for PHEAA-owned private loans for Pennsylvania borrowers not in default. 

Pensions

As mentioned earlier, Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System a $74 million, or 2.8 percent, increase to cover the actuarially required contribution. PSERS is fully funded for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, according to the final stop-gap budget.

The PSERS appropriation totals $2.702 billion with the 74 percent increase. 

The State Employee Retirement System or SERS will receive funding at the five-twelfths of their 2019-2020 funding level. Contributions to SERS are estimated at $2.227 billion, however other contributions have not been appropriated yet. 

Part three of our analysis will run on Monday, July 13.

Cassie Miller
A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry. Miller has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. She is a graduate of Penn State University where she served as the campus newspaper’s photo editor. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in professional journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition to her role at the Capital-Star, Miller enjoys working on her independent zines, Dead Air and Infrared.