BEFC president says equitable education funding will make Pennsylvania an economic powerhouse

It’s a giant neon sign on a Vegas street. Maybe even “The Sphere”.

This is the most essential activity on the “Honey things to do” list.

This is something Pennsylvania lawmakers can no longer ignore. This is funding for primary education in the Commonwealth.

From the Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer The state’s Commonwealth Court declared last February that Pennsylvania’s school funding system was unconstitutional, and the General Assembly was charged with finding a solution.

Rejoicing ruled that the system needed reformbecause it violates the education clause of the state constitution by failing to provide every student with a meaningful opportunity for academic, social and civic success, which requires that all students have access to a comprehensive, effective and contemporary public education system.”

She also ruled that public education is a “fundamental right” and that “the current public education funding system has a disproportionate negative impact on students attending schools in low-wealth school districts.”

While the Commonwealth Court did not tell lawmakers how to create a new funding system, it did set out clear requirements and protections, and identified specific problems that needed to be addressed in low-wealth neighborhoods.

AND Commission on the Funding of Primary Education was created and charged with reviewing the distribution of state funds for elementary education among Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts and reporting to the General Assembly.

He co-chaired the 15-member committee – six Democrats, six Republicans and three from the Shapiro administration Rope. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) i His. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York) i adopted the majority report with recommendations to Governor Josh ShapiroGeneral Assembly and State Board of Education.

PoliticsPA recently spoke with Sturla about his thoughts on Shapiro’s budget proposal, which calls on the Legislature to close the $5.4 billion adequacy gap between wealthy and poor school districts.

“The Constitution requires that we only do one thing and that is fund the Pennsylvania public school system,” Sturla said. “If we did nothing else in our budget, we would not violate the Constitution. If we don’t fund schools, we are violating the Constitution. The court found that we are currently violating the Constitution.”

The governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2024-25 includes $8.94 billion in basic education funding. This amount represents an increase of $1,072 billion (13.62%) compared to the appropriations provided for fiscal year 2023-2024. The proposed budget includes:

  • Increase the student-based distribution formula by $200 million to continue sustained investments in school districts’ basic education programs.
  • An increase of $872 million to ensure adequate investment in basic education, as recommended by the Commission on the Funding of Basic Education.

Republicans argued that a lot of money was allocated to education last year with the House GOP leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) pointing to recent PSSA exam scores that have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“Despite years of bipartisan support for historic amounts of increased funding for public education, including Pennsylvania’s most poverty-stricken rural and urban schools, our testing metrics show that Pennsylvania students are not recovering from the learning deficit quickly enough,” Cutler added. “It is more clear than ever that money alone is not the solution, and it is equally clear that the biased report approved by Democrats on the Basic Education Financing Committee is a typical example of a system caught in a sad cycle of its own failures.”

Sturla contradicted Cutler’s view using the analogy of a wheelbarrow and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“OK, so you gave me a wheelbarrow (of money),” he said. “What now? The hole was the size of an Olympic swimming pool. I need 10, 15, 20 or 50 of them every year for the next seven or eight years for us to get to the point where the pool is full.”

“Budgets are documents of priorities. If we say we don’t fund education because we have so many other priorities to address, the courts will say, “I’m sorry, your priorities are wrong.” The court merely interprets the Constitution (and) the Constitution says there is no other priority.”

When education funding is discussed at the local level, it usually begins and ends with school taxes and the richest and poorest neighborhoods in the area. In Lancaster County, the City of Manheim and the Lancaster School District are at opposite ends of the funding spectrum.

“We always (people say) spend an average of X per student,” Sturla said. “This wealthy local school district collects daylight taxes from its constituents and raises the statewide average. But the poor district can’t raise enough money. (Opponents) say what the average is. Who cares what the average is?

“We’re not asking that we spend $35,000 on every student. We say we will spend $13,000 per student.”

He noted that the commune of Manheim, located north of the city of Lancaster, is doing better in this formula than one might expect, because it does not develop along with wealthier students. It is growing due to more students with special needs or for whom English is a second language.

“Due to population growth, the City of Manheim is approximately $19 million short of funding annually. We only give them nine. They will triple what they get.

“And the Lancaster School District would receive an additional $41 million a year on top of the $77 million it already receives, plus an additional $15 million in addition per year, because the Lancaster School District has essentially relied on local citizens who fund to try to fill the gap – the gap of $41 million that already exists.”

Sturla said the proposal wasn’t just about Democrats throwing money around.

“We have proof in the state of Pennsylvania that if you increase funding and hold those funds accountable, you will get results,” he said, citing 2008 block grants that led to marked improvements in standardized test scores.

The more important question is: when… when will the results be visible throughout the Community?

“I will see improvements in test scores, but I won’t see the full effect until after seven years of increased funding,” Sturla said. “We will phase it in over seven years. In seven years,(a) a child who enters kindergarten in the Lancaster School District will enjoy 12 or 13 full years of adequate and equitable funding. I will see the full effect in 20 years. And when we expect it in 20 years, the graduation rate will be higher.

“The full impact of this will be felt for a generation,” he continued. “But if we don’t do what we say we need to do, we need to step up. We have to do it within seven years.

“In our modern commercial society in the United States, we know I need an educated workforce. I think this will ultimately establish Pennsylvania as an economic powerhouse. And if we don’t want to do it for the children for the right moral reasons, at least do it for economic reasons.

Sturla also rejected the concept presented by the Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (Westmoreland) that Shapiro’s budget was undisciplined and “reckless in a ‘unicorns and rainbows’ manner.”

“I think if you believe that government has no role in improving the economy or people’s lives, then all government does is unicorns and rainbows. So I think if you take that approach and just say, let the world take care of itself, why should I fund a private school on your hope?”

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