Letter to Gov. Wolf/ PA Legislators: Education Investment Needed in FY 2021-22 State Budget

April 23, 2021

Dear Governor Wolf and members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly:

Like all Pennsylvanians, school districts have faced many tough choices as they adapt to the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reopening and returning to the classroom presents certain potential health risks, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that remote learning is not meeting the needs of all of our students. These increased demands exacerbate the issue that has plagued Pennsylvania for decades: inadequate state funding for our schools.

The pandemic delivered a one-two punch to Pennsylvania schools already suffering from years of state underfunding: a drop in local revenues during the COVID-driven economic slowdown and a spike in costs to educate students and keep them safe during this unprecedented crisis.

Federal government relief over the past year will help school districts weather the immediate fiscal storm, but it is a one-time injection of funds to deliver immediate relief for COVID-related costs.

The more systematic funding problem is driven largely by mandated costs beyond school districts’ control like pensions, special education, and charter school tuition that have increased far more than what the state has been willing to cover over the last few decades. School districts should not use one-time federal funds to solve a longstanding, multi-billion-dollar problem with Pennsylvania’s school funding.

Pennsylvania Senate Republicans agree. GOP Senate leadership recently wrote to all the state’s superintendents, urging them to use one-time federal relief dollars for non-recurring, one-time costs related to the pandemic and not for these ongoing mandated costs. The Senators wrote: “federal stimulus funding should appropriately be expended for one-time purposes that can be aligned with the one-time federal dollars.”

That will only be possible if there are sufficient funds from the state to cover schools’ recurring costs.

In the current 2020-21 school year, while state funding for basic education funding and special education funding was flat, school districts are being forced to cover state and federal mandated costs that spiked approximately $665 million according to estimates modeled by the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). Schools will be faced with another annual increase in mandated costs of approximately $485 million next school year. Those estimates are supported by a comprehensive budget survey of school district business managers and superintendents conducted by PASBO, the PA Association of School Administrators, and the PA Association of Rural and Small Schools. This trend is simply unsustainable.
We are writing you today to urge you to invest at least $1.15 billion in our schools to cover rising mandated costs this school year and the next – an investment that should not be paid for with one-time federal dollars. This should include at least $200 million more for special education and $10 million for career and technical education (CTE).

As you are well aware, Pennsylvania ranks 44th in the country in state share of funding for public schools and 428 of the 500 school districts are not receiving their adequate share of funding from the state. Decades of underfunding for basic education, special education, and career and technical education – including last year’s flat funding – have continually weakened the fiscal foundation of our schools.

This forces school districts to rely too heavily on local tax revenue in an attempt to make up the difference, with poor districts the worst off.

Now is the time to step up and cover the unprecedented costs our schools are facing, most particularly the increases in mandated expenses. Our schools need at least an additional $1.15 billion from the state to provide each child with the quality education they deserve, regardless of where they live. That type of investment would also better position school districts and the state to avoid the mistakes of the past, specifically the decision to slash school funding by $1 billion after the Great Recession.
Those cuts were disastrous for students and schools, with at least 27,000 teaching and other school personnel jobs eliminated. Greater state investment can help avert another precipitous funding cliff down the road.

The Commonwealth is rounding the corner when it comes to COVID-19. Schools are reopening for in-person instruction, and the prospect of a closer-to-normal 2021-22 school year is on the horizon.

But if our communities and our economy are to fully recover and thrive for the long term, now is the right time for the state to make a genuine commitment to investing in our students – the future drivers of Pennsylvania’s economy.

Thank you for your consideration of our FY 2021-22 budget request. We stand ready to work with all of you to see it enacted.

Sincerely,
The PA Schools Work Campaign
One Pennsylvania (OnePA)
The Arc of Pennsylvania
Education Law Center
Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA)
Allies for Children
Education Law Center
A+ Schools Pittsburgh
The Public Interest Law Center
Pennsylvania PTA
Teach PLUS
Pennsylvania Partnership for Children
Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO)
Urban League of Philadelphia
PA Principals
Pennsylvania School Counselor Association
Council for a Stronger America
Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA)
Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO)
Latino American Community Action of Montgomery County (ACLAMO)
Keystone Research
Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators (PACTA)
Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC)
Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY)
LEARN
Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS)
Education Voters of Pennsylvania