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Governor proposes more education funding, legalizing recreational marijuana

Governor Josh Shapiro unveils his 2024-25 budget proposal in the Capitol Complex rotunda on Tuesday.
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Governor Josh Shapiro unveils his 2024-25 budget proposal in the Capitol Complex rotunda on Tuesday.

Gov. Josh Shapiro wants to increase basic education funding by more than $1 billion, legalize recreational marijuana and raise the minimum wage.

Shapiro delivered his 2024-25 budget proposal to the divided state Legislature on Tuesday.

The $48 billion budget is a 7% increase from this year. The proposal does not increase sales or personal income taxes. Instead, it relies on the state’s budgetary reserves and funding from regulating skill games and legalizing marijuana.

Much of the governor’s proposal focuses on education. Last year, the state Commonwealth Court ruled that the state’s current education funding system is unconstitutional. The budget begins to address the fair funding issue, providing $872 million in first-year adequacy investments and $200 million for the basic education funding formula.

“Our challenges around education aren’t going to be solved in one budget cycle, but we can make real progress toward a lasting and equitable solution,” Shapiro said in his nearly 90-minute budget address in the Capitol Complex rotunda. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do right by our kids. Let’s seize this moment.”

The Democratic governor also wants to regulate cyber charter school costs, make higher education more affordable and open additional seats in early childhood education programs. He would unite the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and community colleges under a new governance system. He also proposes $3 million to schools to make feminine hygiene products available in schools.

Most districts would see a significant increase in funds. For Scranton, a district long-underfunded by the state, the budget would bring an additional $17 million for next year – a 25% increase.

Democratic state Sen. Marty Flynn, who represents Scranton, says both the district and taxpayers would benefit.

"It would strengthen the tax base in that our local taxes wouldn't have to pick up the slack for the state not contributing an equitable amount to it," he said.

Shapiro said he would be open to continuing discussions on the controversial school voucher program, which divided Democrats and Republicans last year.

The budget also includes a comprehensive economic development plan, more money for public transit and invests $100 million to reduce gun violence. He also restated that he believes that women and girls deserve access to a full range of reproductive health care services and the freedom to make their own choices about their own bodies.

A long-debated issue in the state, Shapiro again called on raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 per hour.

“We’re falling behind. It’s anticompetitive and it’s hurting our worker,” he said. “And as we’ve remained at a flat $7.25, every single one of our neighboring states has raised their minimum wage, as have 30 other states across the country.”

Republican Sen. David Argall, whose district includes Carbon, Schuylkill and part of Luzerne counties, questioned how the state would pay for the governor's proposal.

"We do have a very nice, significant reserve in the state's savings account," Argall said. "But if we spend it all at once, we'll face the same budget deficits that California and New York are facing. They have some difficult choices there. They can slash important programs or increase their taxes. We don't want to make the same mistake here in Pennsylvania."

Sarah Hofius Hall worked at The Times-Tribune in Scranton since 2006. For nearly all of that time, Hall covered education, visiting the region's classrooms and reporting on issues important to students, teachers, families and taxpayers.

You can email Sarah at sarahhall@wvia.org