Split decision: Democrats’ education proposal calls for an additional $5.4 billion in funding

by a majority of 8 to 7, the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEF) adopted a Democrat-backed report which addresses the Commonwealth Court’s decision in William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al.

Well then, judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer concluded that the General Assembly has failed in our constitutional obligation to provide “a thorough and effective public education system” by both underfunding and unfairly funding public schools throughout Pennsylvania.

The adopted report suggests an adequacy gap — that is, the difference between luxurious and impoverished school districts — of $5.4 billion in K-12 school funding, about $800 million less than the amount suggested by plaintiffs in the school funding lawsuit. The report indicates that the state requires 95 percent of this funding.

The The 2023 BEFC Reconstruction Report makes the following recommendations to the Governor, General Assembly and State Board of Education:

1. Reduce variability in the Basic Education Financing Formula (BEF) by using three-year averages in some data elements, reducing the ‘cliff’ of concentrated poverty and resetting the base at the distribution level for 2023/24. Deliver at least $200 million in growth every year with the updated BEF formula;

2. Calculate adequacy goals for each school district;

3. Reconstitute the next BEFC in 2029 in accordance with Law No. 51 of 2014;

4. Invest in school facilities;

5. Examine funding for charter schools;

6. Invest in our educational staff;

7. Invest in student support; AND

8. Consider other crucial educational issues beyond the immediate scope of this BEFC.

The Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center – two of the plaintiffs in the case – said the report is a good first step that, if fully implemented, will change students’ lives.

“The statewide matching funding target of $5.4 billion will increase total statewide funding for public education by 17% over seven years, targeting students in low-wealth districts that have been under-resourced for decades.

“This proposal is not ideal. It includes $300 million as Pennsylvania’s first significant state investment in school facilities in nearly a decade, but it is only a small down payment on the enormous need for safe and healthy facilities found by the Commonwealth Court. The report also does not cover investments in pre-school education, which the court considered fundamental to the constitutional system of public education. We call on legislators and the governor to work together to meet these basic needs of our students.”

Governor Josh Shapiro sees the way to finding a solution.

“Last year, the Commonwealth Court ordered my administration, legislative leaders and education advocates to work together to ensure that every child in Pennsylvania receives an appropriate and equitable education. The report adopted today by the Commission on Basic Education Financing is a reflection of this work and the consensus across Pennsylvania, and among leaders in both parties, that there is a viable path to providing a comprehensive K-12 education solution in Pennsylvania.

“Today’s report recognizes that additional, targeted investments in public education are necessary to adequately meet the needs of school districts across Pennsylvania. The report also highlights a number of my priorities that build on the key investments we have already made – including supporting our children’s mental health, resources to repair, maintain and secure school facilities, and efforts to increase the number and support of our teachers.”

Pennsylvania House of Representatives leaders praised the report.

“Today’s report from the Commission on Basic Education Financing is a groundbreaking plan that recommends significant, targeted investments that will level the playing field by ensuring the appropriate and equitable distribution of education funds while providing significant property tax relief to many Pennsylvanians who have been overburdened by long .

“The report is a compromise that carefully considers input from lawmakers and the many important voices who have shared their experiences and recommendations with the Basic Education Funding Commission. (It) represents a roadmap to a better future for our children. Now we must get to work to ensure the recommendations are implemented so that our students have access to a high-quality and safe public education with all the tools and resources they need to succeed.”

Member of the Commission Representative Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) said he wants to make sure that children across Pennsylvania have the same opportunities as children in school districts with higher spending.

“Today’s report, which was approved by a majority of BEFC members, would ensure adequacy, equity and sustainability for all of our school districts. That means more books, better technology and more teachers in classrooms. These also include new school buildings and renovated classrooms. Finally, it means more money in the pockets of Pennsylvanians living in high-tax areas of the commonwealth.

“We are investing $5 billion a year to level the playing field for districts that are lagging behind. We’re providing billions in property tax cuts to homeowners in the neighborhoods where these burdens hit them the hardest. We also recognize that the enormous costs of construction and major renovations cannot simply be absorbed by neighborhoods, creating a new financing method that invests in our community while investing in our children.

One Democrat in the BEF – Senator Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) – I voted against the report.

“I cannot in good faith vote for a compromise report that will ultimately serve as a starting point for budget negotiations,” she said in a statement. “I didn’t want the public to look at a unanimous report submitted solely by Democrats and think it represents our shared goals for this year’s budget. It is not. A unanimous all-Democrat report risks setting a ceiling for negotiations – and this report is closer to my vote. I saw no reason to hesitate now.

Republican leaders were offended that their proposal did not receive a majority and that the Democratic report did not go far enough.

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize our Commonwealth’s education system and ensure a prosperous future for our children,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland). “It is unfortunate that Democrats on the committee were unable to propose a new approach. Instead, they want to spend billions on the same plan with no results. As I have stated before, throwing more money into a failing system is not the solution. We can and must do better when it comes to educating our children and ensuring we have a skilled workforce to fill future jobs.”

“The Basic Education Financing Commission was able to chart a transformational path in our public education system that created real choice through innovative approaches to education, while providing the necessary resources to ensure proven development models are effective,” said the House Minority Leader. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “Unfortunately, the one-sided report produced by Democrats continues to play into special interest rhetoric and will leave too many Pennsylvania students on the same road to nowhere rather than on a new path to prosperity.”

“The recommendations of the Primary Education Funding Commission in its report published today are deeply disappointing,” said the Commonwealth Foundation’s director of legislative strategy Kevin Kane. “Some committee members lost sight of the original mandate – to review the ‘Fair Funding Formula’ and ensure a fair distribution of funds that takes students into account. Instead, a majority of its members accepted calls from special interest groups for a multibillion-dollar increase in public education spending – an ineffective move that fails to address the heart of Pennsylvania’s education problems.”

The GOP proposal was split along party lines, with three administration officials voting to abstain.

Jerry T. Jordanpresident of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said the report points Pennsylvania in the right direction.

“I applaud the Committee on Basic Education Financing for its bipartisan commitment to examining school funding inequities in our Commonwealth, and especially the committee’s Democratic members and those representing Governor Shapiro’s administration for developing a plan that addresses many of the inequities we have shed light on over the years. We believe that the mechanisms set out by the Commission, if enshrined in law and implemented faithfully, will have the ability to steer school funding in the right direction.”

State leaders have acknowledged that if lawmakers and Gov. Shapiro do not approve an appropriate funding formula, the plaintiffs in the case – six school districts, the NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools – could take further legal action against the state.

The BEF Committee is composed of 15 members – 4 Education Committee chairs and 2 additional legislators each from the four General Assembly caucuses (House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats) and 3 members of the Administration.

Republicans. Representatives Jesse Topper (Bedford/Fulton), Jason Ortitay (Allegheny/Washington) i Ryan Warner (Fayette/Westmoreland); meaning David Argall (Coal/Luzerna/Schuylkill), Kristin Phillips-Hill (York) i Greg Rothman (Cumberland/Dauphin/Perry).

Democrats. Representatives Pete Schweyer (Lehigh), Mike Sturla (Lancaster) i Mary Isaacson (Philadelphia); Meaning. Lindsey Williams (Allegheny), Vincent Hughes (Philadelphia) i Nick Miller (Lehigh/Northampton).

Administration. Dr. Khalid Mumin (Secretary of Education), Angela Monter (Designated Assistant Secretary for Education) i Natalie Krug (Budget Office).

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