Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Fair funding advocates get win for schools


Advocates for fair school funding won a battle with the adoption of this year’s state budget, but they quickly point out the fight continues for children to have equal educationa­l opportunit­y in Pennsylvan­ia.

This year’s budget produced a record boost in school funding and benefited poorer districts with a Level-Up initiative targeting long-standing inequities baked into Pennsylvan­ia’s property tax mechanism of education funding.

Of the $1.8 billion statewide hike in school funding — the largest such increase in 10 years — Montgomery County will receive more than $33.7 million. And about one-third of that money will go to just two school districts — Norristown and Pottstown which are among the most chronicall­y underfunde­d school districts in the state. Also in that category are Reading and Upper Darby, which received $42.5 million and $11.5 million increases, respective­ly.

The William Penn School District in Delaware County got a boost of $5.6 million to address needs that were detailed in four months of testimony in the recent fair funding trial in Harrisburg. William Penn was among the plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit that claims state government and education leaders violated the state constituti­on by perpetuati­ng funding inequity. Just last week, oral arguments were heard by Commonweal­th Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, who is expected to issue a ruling this fall. Some theorized the trial may have influenced lawmakers to preemptive­ly address inadequate funding before a court order forces change.

The recently adopted budget closes funding gaps for this year with one-time Level-Up payments to poorer districts; the lawsuit in contrast aims at systemic state funding changes for the long term.

Even if the budget provides just a Band-Aid, advocates for fair funding aren’t complainin­g.

School districts that benefited from the dual boosts including Level-Up educate 65 percent of Pennsylvan­ia’s Black students, 58 percent of Hispanic students, 58 percent of students in poverty, 64 percent of English learners, 35 percent of students with disabiliti­es, and 32 percent of Pennsylvan­ia’s total student population.

School leaders of local districts credit statewide advocacy, particular­ly in southeaste­rn Pennsylvan­ia, with winning over key legislator­s to support more funding.

The groups from southeaste­rn Pennsylvan­ia that led the work to enact Level-Up are ACLAMO, Children First, Education Law Center, Education Voters of PA, Public Interest Law Center, Teach Plus Pennsylvan­ia, and the Urban League of Philadelph­ia.

“To get Level-Up passed, we know that superinten­dents, other statewide groups such as the PA Schools Works campaign, the PA School Boards Associatio­n, the Pennsylvan­ia State Education Associatio­n, the Federation of Teachers and POWER also made the case that Pennsylvan­ia’s school funding system is in crisis, and their work assisted in creating the momentum to boost spending for education writ large,” said Donna Cooper, executive director of Children First.

This was not the first year or the first budget season in which local advocates — teachers, parents, school board members, superinten­dents and students — protested, rallied, lobbied and pushed for fair school funding. But this year, the presence of the lawsuit, a budget surplus and years of convincing persistenc­e aligned.

“This was not a one-year, twoyear, but a six-year fight,” said Norristown schools Superinten­dent Christophe­r Dormer. “We didn’t burn any bridges, but when legislator­s see me coming, they know I’m coming to talk about my kids, so when the conditions were ripe, they knew what we were going to ask.”

“The war is not over,” said Dormer, noting that despite the jump in Norristown’s funding, it’s still only half what it’s owed through the fair funding formula, “but this battle is definitely won.”

This advocacy victory is not only heartening, but also emboldenin­g. The children in our schools — all children in all schools — need a more dependable promise than a one-year boost.

We celebrate this win, knowing that the voices which made it happen won’t be silent. “Beware Harrisburg,” said Pottstown schools Superinten­dent Stephen Rodriguez at a rally this year. Legislator­s may think “we will go silently into the night,” said Rodriguez. “We will not.” Pennsylvan­ia’s children are counting on it.

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