Bye. House approves public school funding bill

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania could have a fresh public school funding system for the next academic year — one that Democratic lawmakers hope will fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide all students in the state with a fair and equitable education.

On Monday, the bipartisan Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed sweeping changes to education funding 107-94 votes. The bill requires the state to enhance state funding for public schools by $864 million in the next academic year, and the broader proposal would provide more than $5 billion over seven years.

Public school advocates say the changes are conservative but would be transformative. The bill is certain to face scrutiny in the GOP-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have expressed concerns about the plan.

Here’s what you need to know about the proposalits future and why lawmakers are trying to change the system now.

How much money will school governments receive under the bill?

House Democrats want to allocate $5.4 billion for public education over the next seven years, including $5.1 billion in state funding. Low-tax districts that could contribute more by raising local taxes would be responsible for covering the remaining $291 million. The legislation introduced Monday would cover only one year of spending; fresh spending in the seven-year plan would have to be reauthorized by lawmakers each year as part of the state’s annual budget.

The proposal establishes fresh “adequacy goals” that would calculate how much each school district must spend to adequately educate students.

Under the proposal, Philadelphia would be eligible to receive $1.4 billion over the next seven years, or $242 million in the coming fiscal year.

The proposal also includes nearly $1 billion more over seven years for “tax equity” supplements for particularly burdened school districts.

The bill outlines how school districts can spend the extra money, and potential uses include increasing teacher salaries to $60,000 a year. Pennsylvania needs 15,000 more teachers to meet its needs, and proponents have long pushed for higher salaries in hopes of encouraging more people to become teachers.

What next with the Education Financing Act?

To become law, the bill must be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro. The matter now heads to the Senate, where GOP leaders have noted that lawmakers are unable to predict the state’s economic future. They said this makes it tough to commit to a seven-year plan to fully fund the fresh system, and they have long opposed changes to cyber charter school funding included in the legislation.

Shapiro and the Legislature will work to agree on a funding plan before the July 1 budget deadline for the upcoming fiscal year.

As negotiations continue, an extraordinary group of 15 charter, public school and union leaders – led by Mayor Cherelle L. Parker and City Council Speaker Kenyatta Johnson – have called for The House of Representatives bill was adopted on Monday.

“Our organizations represent different sectors, have different missions, and differ in their policies on many issues, but we have united in one voice to urge you to take action to support the needs of all students in Philadelphia,” coalition officials wrote in a letter sent Sunday to Shapiro and legislative leaders.

Why does Pennsylvania need a fresh public education funding system?

Last year, Gov. Josh Shapiro and lawmakers were tasked by a Commonwealth Court judge to create a fresh public education funding system.

A landmark ruling in February 2023 found that Pennsylvania was violating students’ constitutional rights to an education, leaving schools under-resourced. School districts rely heavily on local property taxes to fund public education, which creates an unfair statewide system in which impoverished school districts are unable to collect as much as their wealthier peers.

Although Pennsylvania has a school funding formula that directs additional money to needier districts, it has only been applied to a portion of the state’s education funding, so districts with withering enrollment are not penalized. As a result, the formula’s impact was constrained.

A bipartisan commission of lawmakers worked for six months on the fresh system, culminating on Monday with the adoption of the 87-page bill.

“Today we are telling every young student, regardless of where they live, that they matter and that their educational opportunities will not be limited by the tax base in their neighborhood,” said state Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-Philadelphia), who helped prepare the bill, on Monday in the House.

Several Republican House members said they did not believe another “blank check” to school districts would actually solve the problem and that the bill would not do enough to hold individual school districts accountable for providing a high-quality education to Pennsylvania students.

“We need to look to a future of public policy that involves more than just money. We have to be able to measure success,” said state Rep. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford), the minority chairman of the House Education Committee. “Our students deserve it. I know we can do better and I believe we can do it.”

What about cyber charter schools?

The legislation would also lower the tuition rates that school districts pay for cyber charters, setting a flat per-pupil rate of $8,000 for most students. Currently, districts pay cybersecurity tabs ranging from $8,639 to $26,564, depending on the district’s per-pupil spending.

The proposed fresh rates are the same as those received by residential charter schools. The current difference between the two is a complaint from public school advocates who argue that virtual schools are not that exorbitant to run.

According to House Democrats, changes to cyber tuition fees — which would also adjust payments for special education students in charters, which range from $13,120 to $50,720 depending on disability severity — would save districts $530 million in the next year alone year.

Adjustment: This article has been updated to correct teacher pay regulations.

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