This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.
Pennsylvania’s poorest districts won’t receive $100 million in new money to help fill vacancies and reduce funding deficits after lawmakers diverted those dollars to school construction projects.
Roughly half of the 100 “Level Up” schools serve students in rural counties where populations are shrinking, and taxpayers bear the brunt of rising costs.
After initially agreeing to send hundreds of millions in additional funding to the state’s 100 poorest school districts, state lawmakers decided to reroute that money to fund school construction projects as a compromise when Democrats and Republicans were finalizing the remaining parts of the budget in December.
The decision came after a monthslong budget impasse, partially stemming from the parties’ disagreement over private school vouchers, and about a year after a state Commonwealth Court judge declared Pennsylvania’s current public school funding system unconstitutional. Lawmakers and the governor at that time were ordered to develop a new way to pay for education across the state’s 500 public school districts.
These “Level Up” districts will still receive their share of $225 million earmarked for those in need, but education advocates and participants in a school funding lawsuit were hoping for new dollars to support poor schools.
The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, which has 237 member districts and signed on to the landmark court case, hoped the budget would make a significant down payment toward education funding. The state increased spending on K-12 education by more than $700 million in the most recent budget, to a total annual investment of over $10 billion. The budget included more dollars for basic education, special education, and a program to remove toxins from school buildings.
Earlier this month, lawyers who represented the plaintiffs in the school funding case said they would pursue further legal action if the legislature and Gov. Josh Shapiro failed to rectify school funding shortfalls, calling for a $2 billion investment in public education in 2024-25 and an additional $1 billion in new funding every year for the next four fiscal years.