Property-Tax Issue Tops Education Year
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2005 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds unless noted.
Lawmakers in Pennsylvania sought to alleviate homeowner anger by passing a property-tax cut in 2006. The measure restricts the budgeting freedom of school boards, which depend on those revenues.
Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who was re-elected in November, has pushed for a property-tax cut and for shifting more of the burden for school costs to the state government.
The measure he signed into law in June requires school boards to ask voters whether their districts should raise the local earned-income tax in exchange for getting a share of state gambling proceeds that would pay for property-tax reductions. It also requires boards to ask voter permission to increase their budgets above an inflation-pegged cap. ("Pennsylvania Takes Second Shot at Cutting Property Taxes," July 12, 2006.)
The $26.1 billion fiscal 2007 budget includes $8.8 billion for precollegiate education, an increase of nearly 8 percent over the previous year’s spending plan.
The state’s 3-year-old accountability block grant program got a boost this year, to $250 million from $200 million. Districts may use the funds for programs to improve student achievement, such as smaller class sizes and full-day kindergarten.
Pennsylvania again expanded state funding for the federal Head Start program, setting aside $40 million in the 2007 budget, $10 million more than the year before, in an attempt to boost enrollment to 5,800 children from 4,800.
Support for Project 720, a pilot state effort to increase academic rigor in high schools, grew to $8 million this year from $4.7 million last year. Lawmakers approved $20 million for the first year of a program to provide laptop computers for every student in core courses in 103 high schools, and $10 million to improve science education in 78 elementary schools.
Gov. Rendell’s 2-year-old effort to help high-poverty districts by raising their base funding got more support from the legislature in fiscal 2007. Last year, $22 million was allocated to districts spending less than $8,500 per pupil. This year, $64 million was set aside to help districts that spend less than $9,030 per pupil.
Vol. 26, Issue 16, Page 20