The budget is progressing.

Talks are productive.

But unless everything is agreed to, nothing is agreed to.

This has been the mantra of lawmakers in Harrisburg for the past month. So what is keeping them from everything? Tax cuts, professional licensing, a final spend number have all been identified as issue items— but in Pennsylvania tradition, education remains the top divider.

Last year, lawmakers were torn on school choice policies. That fight, along with cyber charter school reform, has been carried into this year. But a new point of contention has presented itself for the 2024/25 fiscal budget.

This year, lawmakers must respond to a landmark education court case— Pennsylvania relies too much on property tax for education funding. The solution democrats have proposed, revising the formula that distributes money to schools, would give 367 districts a fund increase. That includes most districts in our area.

Revising a formula has many input points, and lawmakers have become entrenched in opinions on some of the specifics in the new distribution plan.

Two major points of contention surround data and time lines.

First, what data to use in determining poverty ratios in a school district? Democrats prefer data collected by Pennsylvania’s Department of Education (PDE). Republicans want to use yearly data from the U.S. Census bureau called the American Community Survey.

With PDE data, Democrats say education funding needs a 15% increase, or $5.1 billion.

Using Census data, that number is reduced by $700 million-$1.4 billion.

Rep. Bob Merski of Erie, who has districts that would significantly benefit from the new formula, says switching to Census data is unecessary when PDE data is trusted and used for other initiatives in the department.

“A plant closure, or one big business opening in a district can have huge impacts on the amount of students in that district,” said Merski. "And so it's important that we have accurate data, timely data."

Second in contention— Republicans want to commit to re-examining funding each year. Democrats, and the law center that brought the original court case, want a commitment to a 7 year funding plan.

"One year's budget will not accomplish that task,” said Mora Mcinerney, legal director for Education Law Center. "We need a one year infusion that is part of a long term plan to fully and comprehensively answer the resource gap."

Today, both the House and Senate went into recess in the afternoon, with no appropriations committee meetings scheduled for the night.

Session days are scheduled for tomorrow, but not Friday at this point. As lawmakers continue talks, the Republican National Convention next week looms as one external deadline that politicians are contemplating.