Statewide School Funding Coalition Calls for $405 Million Increase for What Students Need

 HARRISBURG, PA (February 4, 2020) — PA Schools Work, a nonpartisan statewide movement working to make sure public schools are equitably and fully funded, issued the following statement on the Governor’s proposed budget for 2020-21:

“The PA Schools Work coalition supports Governor Wolf’s budget proposal to increase funds available for public schools by $405 million, which is the minimum amount our schools need.

“In order for this proposed new investment to help schools struggling to keep up with rising costs, head off program cuts, and hold down local property taxes, the legislature must work with the Governor to ensure that when the final budget is adopted in June, public schools receive no less than $405 million in additional resources, distributed fairly across school districts.

“As we consider it an urgent necessity, our coalition of educators, advocates, and citizens is calling on the legislature to focus on the future and stand behind the governor’s proposed line item increases in Basic Education Funding ($100 million) and Special Education Funding  ($25 million. Additionally, we are disappointed that increased investments in career and technical education are not part of the governor’s proposal, as they were in the past two state budgets. We look forward to working with the legislature to do more to ensure we are preparing students for today’s workforce.”

“The governor’s budget also proposes $280 million to be made available to school districts by adopting reforms to how charter schools are paid.  We specifically call on all caucuses and the Governor’s office to agree that, with or without consensus on these reforms, our public schools receive a boost of at least $405 million through whatever combination of funding increases and charter school reforms can be attained. We also call for the new investments to be distributed equitably so all school districts are provided funding to meet their most critical resource needs.

“PA Schools Works recognizes that there are many budget demands. But there is no more critical priority than investing in public schools to build a well-educated and skilled workforce that will grow and strengthen our economy and to resolve the historic inadequacy and inequity of the state’s school funding system.

“Without the investment proposed by the governor, school districts will be forced to cut services and academic offerings to the students they are charged to educate or to increase property taxes to keep essential programs going.  Increases in mandated expenses for school districts, estimated to top $455 million this year alone, are a major reason why a recent Temple University study found that 300 of Pennsylvania’s school districts – about 60% of the total – will experience funding shortfalls over the next few years that will result in ‘limited opportunities for their students.’

“Specifically, mandated costs for charter school enrollment alone are estimated to grow by more than $175 million in FY2020-21.   On top of these costs, total pension costs are expected to increase by as much as $80 million, and special education costs are expected to continue to grow by more than $200 million per year, topping $6 billion in 2020-21.

“We recognize that Pennsylvania is now funding schools at a higher level than any year in the past.  That same statement can be made for nearly every essential service funded in the state budget, including the State Police, Corrections, Child Welfare, Medicaid, and for the legislature itself.  A highwater mark is only meaningful if it demonstrates that the state is meeting its obligation to all students.  Based on the widely supported school funding formula, however, Pennsylvania is underfunding its school districts and continues to shift the obligation to support education onto local taxpayers.

“All four legislative caucuses and the Governor should pledge to meet the needs of our students by relying on facts and policies that lead to improved student outcomes. Students and communities around Pennsylvania cannot afford budgetary maneuvers that may appear to boost funding but mean no material change in the condition of the Commonwealth’s public education system.

“Recognizing that we are still more than $3 billion short of what our funding formula projects is needed to educate all Pennsylvania’s students, PA Schools Work urges the Governor’s office and the legislature to ensure that the full investment of $405 million reaches Pennsylvania’s classrooms this year.”

For more information on PA Schools Work visit PASchoolsWork.org or email info@paschoolswork.org.