(The Center Square) – There’s some disagreement between lawmakers and the governor’s administration over the existence of funding for Pennsylvania’s new universal free school breakfast program.
In August, Gov. Josh Shapiro signed a spending plan that included $45.5 million for school districts to cover free breakfast for all students, about 1.7 million statewide. Another 22,000 who qualified for reduced lunches will no longer be paid, either.
There’s just one problem, according to Senate Republican Appropriations Chairman Scott Martin, R-Strasburg. The bill needed to authorize the reimbursements to school districts for the program – also known as the Education Code – hasn’t passed.
Martin told The Center Square that as recently as July, the administration “seemed to indicate that implementation language is necessary.”
That’s why the most recently approved education code, House Bill 301, included language to do so. The total budget for school food services is $92.5 million in the 2023-24 fiscal year.
HB 301 cleared the Senate in November 45-5, though the House objected to an increase it included for school choice tax credits.
“It is frustrating that bill was derailed by partisanship in the House,” Martin said. “We still hold out hope that the House and Senate can come together and get this issue resolved along with other key measures to support Pennsylvania students.”
A spokesman for the Department of Education told The Center Square the enacted spending plan earmarks spending for the program; as such, it’s already in effect across Pennsylvania.
Without the authorizing language, it will be up to the state Treasurer’s office to approve the reimbursements.
Erik Arneson, the Treasurer’s spokesman, confirmed its official role in the process but said he “cannot predict the outcome of a hypothetical review.”
“If such a requisition is received, Treasury will follow the same process as with every other requisition,” he said. “Our Fiscal Review team will examine the requisition to determine whether it is lawful and correct, as required by the Fiscal Code. This is a routine part of the work we do.”
Christen Smith is the Pennsylvania editor for The Center Square newswire service and co-host of Pennsylvania in Focus, a weekly podcast on America’s Talking Network. Find her work in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Broad + Liberty, RealClear, the Washington Examiner, and elsewhere.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.