Let’s start with schools.
Our commitment to education is historic.
We are starting with education because, in many ways, education is at the core of everything else that we want to achieve.
When I ran a business, finding talented people with a strong education was my highest priority.
It’s what made us competitive in the marketplace.
A great public education system will help Pennsylvania attract new businesses, retain talent, and grow the middle class.
We need schools that help teach our kids the 21st century skills they need to compete and win against kids from China and India and Germany.
Over the past four years, Pennsylvania took a step in the wrong direction by trying to balance our state budget on the backs of our schools.
It left us with 25,000 educators out of work.
It forced 75 percent of school districts to cut academic programs.
It forced 70 percent of our school districts to increase class sizes.
It left 56 percent of Pennsylvania students with no access to a full-time librarian.
And it forced too many schools to cut art and band to pay for reading and math.
My fellow Pennsylvanians: this is not a formula for success.
We can do a lot better.
It’s just this simple: our state is never going to get stronger as long as we make our schools weaker.
And that is why the very first thing my budget does is restore the $1 billion in cuts to public education that occurred under the previous administration.
But this is not going to stop at simply reversing cuts that already took place.
We can’t— because the way things were before is not good enough.
For too long, we haven’t paid enough attention to the fact that Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom of the country in state investments in Kindergarten through 12th grade education.
We need to change that.
This budget increases our investment in public schools at every grade level.
It also recognizes that our responsibility to provide a great education does not begin at kindergarten and end with high school.
That’s why my budget also expands access to early childhood education by increasing the number of children in Pre-K by 75 percent.
That’s why we are increasing funding to community colleges by $15 million.
And that is why we are restoring 50 percent of the cuts to our state system of higher education.
But those improvements come with a string attached.
In return for these increases, today I am calling on our institutions of higher education to freeze tuition, and I expect them to answer that call.
These investments in higher education and community colleges will help prepare our young people for jobs that pay.
However, our budget doesn’t just spend more on schools.
It also includes accountability measures to make sure that this money is spent on classrooms, not on bureaucracy.
But that’s not the only thing that makes this budget’s commitment to education historic.
For the first time in more than 40 years, we are proposing to increase the state’s share of funding for public education to 50 percent.
Allow me to explain.
Today, the state contributes just over 35 percent of the total cost of public education.
That ranks us far below the national average, worse than Alabama - worse than Mississippi - and worse than West Virginia.
As a result, here in Pennsylvania, more of the cost falls on local communities, largely in the form of property taxes that disproportionately burden lower income homeowners and seniors living on a fixed income.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not use a funding formula to distribute education dollars to local districts.
That means poorer urban and rural districts are not getting the help that they need.
The gap in spending between rich districts and poor districts has exploded.
A bipartisan commission is developing a fair funding formula to no doubt correct that.
And so will my budget.
The funding formula we are proposing would provide more money to all districts, which will help alleviate the burden on local property owners.
But our proposal will pay special attention to where the challenges are the greatest.
It will ensure that education funds are distributed in a manner that is efficient, equitable, and transparent.
It will help take favoritism out of the process, because if we know anything, we know that school funding should be a matter of need, not politics.
Instead, it will tie funding to specific factors such as district size, poverty levels, and student makeup.
And it will incentivize school districts to develop innovative programs that improve student achievement and hold down costs.
I look forward to the commission’s proposal.
Together we will get this right.
If Pennsylvania is going to be one of the best places to get an education, we can no longer afford to be one of the worst in funding our schools.
We need a historic commitment to education – and we’re making it today.
Now, I’m sure that all sounds great, but many of you are wondering: how are we going to pay for it?
You might hear me talking about education funding and assume that means your taxes will go up.
But in fact, my budget actually reduces the total tax burden on average middle-class homeowners by 13 percent.
So how will we do it?
We will do it with tax reforms that are smart, pragmatic, and fair.
We will do it with changes that will help eliminate the deficit, protect the middle class, and set the table for robust private sector growth.
It starts by doing what every other major gas producing state has already done.
We are going to place a severance tax on the extraction of natural gas.
And we are going to tie the revenues from the tax to funding for public education.
Our plan is known officially as the Pennsylvania Education Reinvestment Act.
I am proposing a five percent severance tax that is projected to generate more than $1 billion in annual revenues.
The impact fee dollars are preserved and will continue to support communities where drilling takes place.
So, under my plan, while local communities will continue to receive funding to address the impact of the drilling, the bulk of these funds will be used to invest in public education.