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Letter to Gov. Shapiro: Lead the Way to Correct a Generation of PA Public School Underfunding

Dec 11, 2023

Letter to Gov. Shapiro: Lead the Way to Correct a Generation of PA Public School Underfunding

Dear Governor Shapiro:

We write on behalf of the Pennsylvania Schools Work campaign, a coalition of organizations from across Pennsylvania that advocate for adequate and equitable funding to meet the needs of Pennsylvania public schools, their students, and the communities they serve.

We applaud your longstanding commitment to Pennsylvania’s public schools as a state legislator, Attorney General and Governor, and appreciate the steps you have taken in the current budget to fill Pennsylvania’s school funding gap and work toward a more equitable school funding system. Thank you.

The anniversary of the Commonwealth Court decision declaring Pennsylvania’s public school funding system unconstitutional will fall the day after your budget address on February 6. You have the opportunity to lead the way to correct a generation of underfunding with your next budget request and we urge you to do so. We trust that you see an adequately and equitably funded system as a vital component of your plan to develop Pennsylvania’s workforce for the next generation.

We ask that your budget request look both backward and forward, filling the existing gap while ensuring district budgets can keep up with inflation and prevent new gaps from opening. While we are grateful for the funding increases in the Wolf Administration and in your first budget, these increases have not substantially closed the longstanding funding gap, and bolder action is needed.

As you know, education funding expert Dr. Matthew Kelly from Penn State University estimated Pennsylvania’s school funding gap at $6.2 billion, and we urge you to consider making a substantial downpayment to begin to fill that adequacy gap.  To meet this goal, we urge you to allocate $2 billion for 2024-25, to be distributed to the 412 inadequately funded school districts so that they can begin to make improvements to instruction and to student services, including libraries and counselors, that have been delayed for so long. To meet the mandate of the Commonwealth Court decision, we also believe that the state must commit – following the $2 billion investment in 2024-25 –  to providing $1 billion in new funding each year over four years to close the funding gap.

In addition, to support all 500 school districts in keeping up with inflation, we ask that you consider an inflation increase at the Act 1 index through the Basic Education Funding (BEF) formula of $417.2 million and a similar increase in the Special Education Funding formula of $78 million.

There is also bipartisan agreement that the Commonwealth must finally resume contributing to Pennsylvania’s woefully inadequate school facilities infrastructure since abandoning a decade ago its financial commitment to support safe and healthy facilities. While we agree that a comprehensive assessment would aid in long-term planning, new funding should not wait. School districts have developed facilities plans and funded them throughout the past decade, and the state should fund PlanCon or a similar program once again starting in 2024-25. We recommend a $400 million allocation for this purpose.

The Commonwealth Court highlighted pre-kindergarten programs as necessary for a constitutionally-compliant system. We urge you to make a commitment to provide funding over five years to meet the unmet need in the Pre-K Counts program, starting with an increase in that line item of $212 million this year.

Lastly, you have made a sustained commitment to better align career and technical programs to workforce needs and make career education more available to students. We urge a next level investment in CTE programs of $200 million.

We are confident that the Commonwealth has the funding to meet its constitutional responsibility. The feared recession has not occurred, and Pennsylvania’s jobless rate is at its lowest level in decades. State tax revenue is still coming in strong this year and the state has more than $7 billion in surplus funds in addition to the largest Rainy Day Fund on record. Making this investment will support and expand the Commonwealth’s economic success for years to come.

This increase will begin to correct years of underfunding that has limited opportunities for students in low-wealth districts, particularly Black and brown students who are the workforce of the future. They look to you to offer them the future they have been so long denied.

We pledge to work with you and members of the General Assembly to achieve a school funding system that makes us all proud and the envy of the nation.

Thank you for your consideration,

412 Justice
ACLAMO
The ARC of Pennsylvania
Children First
Education Law Center
Education Voters of Pennsylvania
Keystone Research Center
Make the Road PA
PA Youth Vote
Pennsylvania Policy Center
Public Interest Law Center
Research for Action
Teach Plus PA
Urban League of Philadelphia

cc:
Lt. Governor Austin Davis
Hon. Jay Costa
Hon. Joanna McClinton
Hon. Matt Bradford

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