All Lancaster County school districts would get more money under competing state budget plans, but most districts would see smaller increases in a plan put forth by Republicans than in Gov. Tom Wolf's pitch.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Harrisburg want to boost education spending and enact a new formula for distributing money to schools. But they disagree on how much money to give districts in 2015-16, where to get the money, and when to start using the formula.
Republicans want to add $100 million to K-12 public school funding in 2015-16 and distribute it through a formula that factors in a district's enrollment, poverty and ability to generate local tax revenue. The proposal doesn't include new taxes.
Under the plan, Lancaster County school districts would see funding increases ranging from 2 to 5 percent, according to data provided by Sen. Lloyd Smucker's office.
On the Democrat side, Wolf has proposed boosting school funds by $400 million, financed by a $1 billion severance tax on natural gas. His plan would wait to apply a new education funding formula until 2016-17. Instead, the increase would "restore" districts to their 2010 funding levels — prior to state budget cuts.
Funding for Lancaster County school districts would rise by 4 to 9 percent, according to data provided by Rep. Mike Sturla's office.
Increases for individual districts under each plan can be seen in the chart below.
For all districts except Conestoga Valley, the GOP proposal would mean smaller increase than Wolf proposed.
Columbia Borough School District would see the highest per-student increase in Wolf's plan: $331.
It would receive the second highest per-student increase under the GOP plan, but less than half of what Wolf proposed: $112.
Business Manager Amy Light said Columbia didn't count on Wolf's increase in the 2015-16 district budget. School boards must pass their budgets by June 30, before state funding is solidified.
"We can't submit on what we hope. We have to submit on what we are relatively certain of," said Light. Columbia's budget included a 2 percent tax increase.
Hempfield Business Manager Mary Lynne Kniley also said her district didn't bank on the full amount promised by Wolf. In the GOP plan, Hempfield would receive $31 per student more than last year — the smallest increase among Lancaster County districts. In the governor's budget, it would receive a $103 per-student increase.
Hempfield's budget includes a 1 percent tax increase and assumed "a modest level of increase" in state funding, according to Kniley. Anything above that would help limit the use of reserve funds, she said.
The long view
Solanco School District would see an additional $109 per student under Wolf's plan and $38 per student in the GOP budget. The district budgeted "about halfway in between" those figures, said Business Manager Tim Shrom.
Since both proposals include an increase, "either proposal's a plus," he said. Where the difference could really matter is looking beyond 2015-16.
"If the magic wand happened and we got the Governor's budget and could count on it continuing, that could really change next year's budget planning," said Shrom.
But when looking down the road, basic education allocations aren't districts' only budget concern. In the long term, soaring pension obligations matter more, said Hempfield's Kniley.
"Without pension reform we continue to be heading toward a train wreck," she said.
The employer contribution to the state's Public School Employee Retirement System will go from 21 percent of payroll to 26 percent next year. That rate has risen dramatically in the last five years to deal with an underfunded system. Employees contribute from 5 to 10 percent of their pay, depending when they joined.