(ALLENTOWN, PA) – Local school leaders and education advocates from the Lehigh Valley held a press conference today prior to the first BEFC hearing being held at the Allentown School District Administration Building the same day. View a video of the press conference here.
Speakers implored the BEFC to develop a plan to meet the Commonwealth Court’s mandate to create a state public school funding system that is both fair and adequate, including quantifiable goals for investment for each school district to ensure all students have access to a public education that prepares them for post-secondary education or gainful employment post-graduation, often referred to as adequacy targets. (Read more on that here.)
“We do not have the same resources as other districts, so our students do not receive the same educational opportunities,” said Leida Rosario, a teacher in the Allentown School District. “It is critical that the commission include resources for pre-K, facilities, and special education in their school funding reforms because all of these inputs affect my students’ learning.”
Susan Spicka, Executive Director of Education Voters, noted that Governor Shapiro, whose administration is represented by three members of the BEFC, identified the commission as the venue to come together and outline a remedy to the unconstitutional school funding system in Pennsylvania.
“On March 7th, Governor Josh Shapiro gave his first budget address and stated, ‘[The judge’s] remedy was for us to get around the table and come up with a solution that ensures every child has access to a thorough and efficient education…’ We are here because the table that Governor Shapiro referred to in his budget address is the Basic Education Funding Commission, which will be meeting for the first time today, right here in Allentown. The stakes are extremely high. This commission must do the work to ensure that the constitutional promise is a reality for all students in the commonwealth,” said Spicka.
Sarah Nemitz, a School Director at Salisbury Township School District, said her district is facing some of the same challenges. “Pennsylvania ranks 43 in the nation for state funding of public education. The state average in PA for local school funding is 54%. In Salisbury, local funding provides 73% of funding for our schools. This is from a community that is land-locked with no open space for development, and with the most tax-exempt properties in Lehigh County. Our tax base will not grow. We need the state’s help to continue providing our students with the best educational opportunities.”
Speakers asked the BEFC to not focus solely on Basic Education Funding and the formula but to think about other critical objectives, like funding levels for other needs like special education. “Allentown school district is 33% taxpayer-funded and would need $123.2 MILLION dollars to be fully funded,” said Jessica McKenty-Nuttall, Director of Advocacy, The Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties. “These statistics are alarming, disheartening, and angering. The ripple effects of this funding nightmare are numerous, such as outdated curriculum, crumbling school facilities, fewer support staff, and our unprecedented teacher shortage crisis, specifically special education teachers. Special education is a mandated cost, and when we force districts to make up for these shortcomings, we not only eat away at the fiscal foundation of our schools, but we further demote inclusion and further divide the gap between the wealthy and poor.”
“We are here to demand equitable funding for public schools and a clear timeline to achieve long-overdue legal compliance by the 2024-2025 school year. The time is now to address the problems created by chronically underfunded schools – problems that harm black, brown, and lower-income neighborhoods across our Commonwealth,” said Rev. Keitha Wiggins-Kennedy, pastor of St. John AME Zion Church in Bethlehem, PA, and leader of POWER Interfaith Lehigh Valley’s Education Team. “The BEFC’s public hearings have shut out the teachers, students, administrators, and families most heavily impacted by inadequate funding and POWER Interfaith will continue its fight to bring racial and economic justice to education in Pennsylvania.”
Speakers explained that the directive from the Commonwealth Court means the BEFC needs to not only identify funding adequacy targets but it must also:
- calculate funding targets that also address unmet needs beyond K-12 basic education funding (e.g. pre-K, special education, facilities);
- establish a fair and equitable “state share” for funding targets to ensure all districts can meet the needs of their students; and
- create a reasonable timeline to meet the state share of those targets.
The BEFC will hold its next hearing in Harrisburg on Wednesday.
PA Schools Work is a non-partisan coalition of organizations from across Pennsylvania representing teachers and other educators; urban, suburban and rural communities; and parents and community members working together to advocate for PA public schools, their students and the communities they serve. For more information on PA Schools Work, visit paschoolswork.org.