Gov. Shapiro highlights education investments in budget proposal

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WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Josh Shapiro and Secretary of Education Khalid Mumin this week highlighted how the governor’s 2024-25 budget proposal will create opportunity for every Pennsylvania child and give them the freedom to chart their own course.

The budget proposal includes significant investments to fully fund public schools, support teachers and provide high-quality, affordable and accessible childcare and early learning opportunities for families. It delivers K-12 education across the Commonwealth by building on the bipartisan work of the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC).

Gov. Shapiro has proposed:

• $1.1 billion in new funding for our K-12 education programs. Of this increase, nearly $900 million is proposed as a first-year adequacy investment as recommended by the BEFC. The remaining $200 million will be distributed through the Basic Education Funding Formula.

• $300 million for environmental school repairs.

• A $50 million increase in special education funding.

• A $50 million investment in school safety and security improvements.

• $30 million in Pre-K programs for teacher recruitment and retention.

• $15 million for student teacher stipends.

“Ensuring all Pennsylvania children have the freedom to chart their own course and the opportunity to succeed is critical to our Commonwealth’s future — and since taking office, my Administration has worked to create opportunity for every child by investing in our K-12 schools,” Shapiro said. “From delivering the largest increase in K-12 basic education funding in Pennsylvania history to securing universal free breakfast for 1.7 million K-12 students, we are giving every student the tools they need to succeed.”

Shapiro said his budget proposal this year builds on the historic progress made and delivers a comprehensive solution for education in Pennsylvania, with a nearly $1.1 billion increase in basic education funding and increased investments in Pennsylvania students, teachers and safe and healthy classrooms.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to do right by our kids,” Shapiro said.

Secretary Mumin said giving learners the resources, they need while they’re in school — whether that’s new textbooks, expanded course offerings, or a nutritious meal — helps them focus on learning today to reach infinite possibilities of success tomorrow.

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Legislation for future of higher education introduced

Sen. Jay Costa and Rep. Peter Schweyer this week introduced Gov. Josh Shapiro’s plan for higher education as SB 1248 and HB 2398.

Building off the Blueprint for Higher Education proposed by the governor earlier this year, the plan reinvests in publicly funded colleges and universities, improves coordination between institutions of higher education, makes college more affordable, helps close workforce shortage gaps by helping more Pennsylvanians earn college credentials, attracts more people to Pennsylvania and keep them here and serves as an economic driver for our Commonwealth for generations to come, according to a news release.

“For too long, Pennsylvania has disinvested in higher education — leading to higher costs and barriers that actually drive students away from pursuing a higher education,” Shapiro said. “This plan for higher education creates real opportunity for our students by reinvesting in higher education, lowering the cost of college, and incentivizing colleges and universities to work together to meet our Commonwealth’s critical workforce needs. It delivers real freedom for Pennsylvanians to pursue an affordable, high-quality college education at any point in their lives — whether they want to build a skill, earn a credential, or pursue a degree.”

The plan also increases Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) state grants by $1,000 for students from a family that makes up to the median income, bringing the maximum award up from $5,750 to $6,750 beginning in FY2025-26.

Rep. Meuser supports legislation to protect national security, reduce dependence on China

U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, this week co-sponsored H.R. 8631 — the Decoupling from Foreign Adversarial Battery Dependence Act.

The legislation would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from procuring batteries from six companies owned and operated in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and advance efforts to decouple the supply chain from the United States’ adversary.

Meuser said the PRC produces approximately 80% of the world’s batteries and nearly 70% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries.

He said this legislation would prohibit DHS from procuring batteries from six Chinese companies that are closely linked to the CCP, including Contemporary Amperex Technology Company, BYD Company, Envision Energy, EVE Energy Company, Hithium Energy Storage Technology Company and Gotion High-Tech Company.

Regarding security vulnerabilities, Meuser said Contemporary Amperex Technology Company, for example, could install malware on EVs, which could result in gathering sensitive information about their owners, as well as execute a shutdown of EV charging networks, battery-energy storage systems, or even disable targeted vehicles through hardware infiltration.

Meuser said it is critical to proactively work to prevent these and other vulnerabilities. Last year, reports indicated that the PRC-aligned Contemporary Amperex Technology Company installed its batteries at facilities in Florida, Virginia, Nevada and California, as well as a solar farm on leased land inside the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Energy-storage batteries produced by the company at Camp Lejeune have been decommissioned, following increased pressure from Congress.

Pennsylvania is home to some of the largest battery manufacturers in the country.

“As the use of battery power becomes more prevalent in the United States, particularly as the Biden Administration pushes EVs on the American people, we must ensure that we do not leave our citizens, their property, or our infrastructure vulnerable to manipulation by the Chinese Communist Party,” Meuser said. “This legislation is vital to protecting our national security and is a step in the right direction toward lessening our reliance on a foreign adversary. I urge my colleagues to support this important bill, which helps counter the CCP’s growing malign influence.”

H.R. 8631 was referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security where it awaits further action.

Sen. Baker: Senate Judiciary Committee advances six bills

Sen. Lisa Baker this week said the Senate Judiciary Committee has advanced six bills that she said will contribute to making Pennsylvania a safer and more secure place to live, ensuring the protection of residents and upholding the integrity of the state’s legal and justice systems.

“Criminal law and the pursuit of justice are never entirely fixed items,” said Baker, R-Lehman Township. “We continually find places where an emerging loophole in law is exploited to create new victims. The same is true for advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence, where bad actors find ways to misuse it for purposes that damage lives. These bills are worthy examples of the diligence lawmakers are undertaking to solve real and concerning problems.”

• Senate Bill 186 and Senate Bill 187 — Replaces the term “child pornography” with “child sexual abuse material,” more accurately reflecting the true nature of the crime.

• Senate Bill 1213 — Prohibits AI-generated child sexual abuse material and other AI-generated sexually explicit images.

Legislation to help homeowners and landlords retain control of their property was also approved.

• Senate Bill 1236 — Amends the Landlord Tenant Act to codify the common law definition of “tenant” and clarify that individuals possessing real property without the owner’s consent are not entitled to the rights and procedures established in the act.

The committee also voted to establish a Directed Trust Act for Pennsylvania and conduct a study on veterans’ experiences in the criminal justice system.

• Senate Bill 1231 — Updates the legal definitions and rules relating to trusts and directed trusts, based on a recommendation from 2021 Report by Joint State Government Commission Advisory Committee on Decedents’ Estates Law.

• Senate Resolution 196 — Directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to conduct a study on the correlation of veterans who have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, post-traumatic stress injury, military sexual trauma and traumatic brain injury and who have also been involved in the criminal justice system.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.