The Boyertown Area Times
Disappointed with education funding
Gov. Josh Shapiro has presented his budget proposal for the 2023-24 fiscal year. It is just that; a budget proposal. Just like most budgets, it will see many iterations before the final budget is put in place. Although the governor increased basic education funding budget by $567 million, which sounds like a lot of money, it was just enough to keep up with the cost of inflation.
Advocates for fair funding had hoped he would increase the basic education budget by at least $2 billion to start, especially since this year the state has a budget surplus of $11 billion. Many education advocates expected a huge fiscal boost because of the judgment made by Commonwealth Count Judge Rene Cohn Jubelirer. Her ruling stated that the educational funding system in Pennsylvania violates the state constitution’s education clause as well as equal protection right of students in impoverished school districts.
There are deep disparities in education quality depending on where students live. The old statement “your education depends on your zip code” is still very true. The judge’s opinion gave the problem of solving this issue to Governor Shapiro and the Pennsylvania legislature. Republican senators and members of the House of Representatives
did not appeal the ruling, which is a sign of cooperation across party lines.
Pennsylvanians are becoming more aware with each passing day how unfair our system of funding education is in this state, and are hoping for a bi-partisan answer to this problem. The majority of us who for many years have been ongoing advocates for fairness in school funding for under resourced public schools, were sorely disappointed that the funding for Level Up was not increased. Level Up was a plan to add the new money in the education budget to the 100 poorest school districts in the state of Pennsylvania.
We, as advocates, represent such statewide organizations as Children First, Pennsylvanians for Fair Funding, POWER Interfaith, Education Voters, PSBA, and others. We assumed the new budget would carry on the process of adding more dollars to the Level Up money, which was put in place during the Wolf administration, and was such a great help to poor school districts. We presumed that something so helpful and positive for underfunded school districts would be increased every year to combat the atrocious “hold harmless” policy that has been part of PA’s funding formula since the early 1990s.
“Hold harmless” is a legal term. In the education world, it means a funding mechanism to ensure that no school district will receive less funding than the previous year. “Hold harmless” locked in budgets in certain school districts with increases for inflation, but without considering student population decline or increase. For instance, if a PA school district in 1992 had 10,000 students and today it has 5,000, it is getting enough money from the state for 10,000 students even though the population has decreased by 5000 students. On the other hand, if a school district had 5,000 students in 1992, and now has 10,000 students, it is getting enough money from the state for only 5,000 of its 10,000 students. “Hold harmless” is one of the most detrimental policies in Pennsylvania school funding.
Level Up monies allowed poor school districts to add much needed teachers, reduce overly large class sizes, and add needed school counselors for the mental health of our students. More classroom assistants or aides were hired which was another way to help students learn. Some districts having discipline issues with their students, many of which were due to overcrowded classrooms and schools, added other staff to assist with handling these discipline problems.
Please Governor Shapiro, do something this budget year to assist with leveling the educational playing field for under resourced schools. Our children and educators cannot wait any longer.