Gov. Josh Shapiro delivered his second budget address this week, highlighting his spending plan for the commonwealth, which includes major investments he seeks to make in education, public safety, and other areas. With so many numbers squeezed into one proposal, there’s a good chance some initiatives fell through the cracks of media coverage.
City & State has your Five for Friday, detailing some of the finer points of Shapiro’s budget proposal that may have been overlooked.
Cyber charter reform
A contentious topic in Harrisburg – specifically during last year’s prolonged budget negotiations – is charter school reimbursements. Funding models and potential reforms are bound to come up again, with Shapiro making a point during his budget address to call for cyber charter reform, Noting that he believes the existing funding model is outdated, he proposed a statewide cyber tuition rate of $8,000 per student per year to compensate for the charges school districts face when a student enrolls in a charter school. With cyber charter schools charging school districts varying rates – between $8,639 and $26,564 today – Shapiro estimated the reform would save school districts roughly $262 million annually.
The spending plan also touches on a variety of environmental topics, including air and water quality and energy production. Shapiro proposed a $1.1 million investment to improve the Bureau of Air Quality’s monitoring capabilities, particularly when it comes to long-term studies. On top of that, Shapiro called for $1.5 million to expand testing to PFAS contamination, which has been linked to harmful health effects in humans and animals.
Eliminating medical debt
Included in Shapiro’s proposed 2024-25 budget is an effort to eliminate $4 million in medical debt for low-income Pennsylvanians. During his address to members of the General Assembly, Shapiro said eliminating medical debt can help Pennsylvanians stabilize their finances. “When you can’t afford to pay it off, your credit score suffers and it makes it harder to reach financial stability,” the governor said. “Because hospitals sell off this debt to collection agencies for pennies on the dollar, with an investment of just $4 million in my budget we can start wiping out medical debt for Pennsylvanians and give them the chance to succeed financially.”
$2.6 million for maternal mortality prevention strategies
Shapiro is looking to build off a $2.3 million investment in maternal mortality prevention efforts in last year’s budget with another multimillion-dollar allocation this year. The governor’s budget proposal calls for another $2.6 million for maternal mortality prevention strategies, which will go toward increasing the Department of Health’s capacity to implement such prevention strategies. “We ought to double down on our work to prevent maternal mortality – especially among Black mothers … and this budget does that,” Shapiro said in his address.
An expansion of the PA SITES program
The governor made economic development funding a cornerstone of his budget address, and his proposed spending plan calls for $500 million in bond funding to expand the Department of Community & Economic Development’s Pennsylvania Strategic Investments to Enhance Sites Program, also known as PA SITES. The program offers grants to eligible applicants – including municipalities, municipal authorities, redevelopment authorities and economic development organizations – that develop or redevelop sites for sites that allow businesses to plant roots in the state.