This story originally appeared on WESA.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed increasing Pennsylvania’s education funding by more than $1 billion this year, in what he calls the largest single year increase ever.
Most of the funding, $872 million, will go toward addressing the problem of some districts having “inadequate” and “inequitable” funding to provide a basic education, as determined by a Commonwealth Court ruling 364 days ago. Another $200 million would go to schools through the current basic education funding formula. The $1 billion increase builds upon an increase of nearly $600 million last year.
“No one here should be OK with an unconstitutional education system for our kids,” Shapiro said.
Although the budget increase falls short of the $6.2 billion that experts witnesses in the Commonwealth court case said would bring education funding up to its legally required level — the increase would put Pennsylvania roughly on pace to increase funding by $5.1 billion over seven years, a recommended timetable laid out in a report earlier this year by the Basic Education Funding Commission. Shapiro said his budget “followed the general contours” of that report.
“Our challenges around education aren’t going to be solved in one budget cycle,” Shapiro said. “We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do right by our students. Let us seize this moment.”
Education advocates immediately began to champion Shapiro’s budget and call for locking in increases into the future. “This is a public education budget worth fighting for,” according to a press release from PA Schools Work, a group of 17 organizations that advocate for increased education funding. The group called on the Pennsylvania legislature to lock in the next six years of education funding increases proposed by the Basic Education Funding Commission.
Under the commission’s proposal, funding would go to districts based on a three year average of its enrollment, weighted by factors like the number of students in poverty, English language learners and the number of students in charter schools. And it also takes into account how wealthy the district’s residents are and their ability to pay for the schools on their own.
The report said this additional funding would likely go disproportionately to districts with the greatest financial need, which in Allegheny County would mean an additional $3 million to $5 million next year to districts like Mckeesport, Sto-Rox, Penn Hills, Baldwin-Whitehall and Woodland Hills. Most other school districts would see six figure or low seven figure increases.
Nine county school districts would see no increase in funding from the additional “adequacy spending”, including Pittsburgh Public Schools — which already has one of the largest per-pupil expenditures in the state. But even these districts would see modest increases in funding through the budget’s proposed $200 million in basic education formula funding — the largest increase by far going to Pittsburgh Public Schools, at $2.3 million.
Additional funding details
Shapiro’s proposed budget would also cap spending on cyber charter schools at $8,000 per student, a level more in line with the actual cost of providing those services, according to prepared budget documents. Right now cyber schools charge between $8,639 and $26,564 per student per year. This will save school districts more than $267 million, according to Shapiro.
The budget materials Shapiro provided prior to his speech didn’t mention anything about private school vouchers. Shapiro has supported them in the past and they’re broadly popular among Republican legislators but are opposed by House Democrats. But Shapiro did briefly mention that he continues to support vouchers in his speech.
He said he supported “scholarships that let poor families in struggling school districts put their kids in the best position for them to succeed – whether that’s paying for extra tutoring, books and computers, or yes, going to another school,” he said. “The Senate passed a proposal last year that included important elements of that, and it’s something I support and consider to be unfinished business.”
The budget includes additional funding for special education ($50 million), student mental health services ($100 million), school safety ($50 million) and building improvements ($300 million). Shapiro called out the Sto Rox School District for having $14 million in needed school building improvements.