Darby Copeland, executive director of the Parkway West Career and Technology Center, testified before the Basic Education Funding Commission in Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, 2023 (screen capture)
As part of a series of statewide hearings on education funding in Pennsylvania, lawmakers heard from educators in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, who told them of the needs that schools in western Pennsylvania have, including special education funding, pre-kindergarten programs, and a vital need for improvements to career and technical education (CTE) programs.
“There are way more centers in Pennsylvania who are turning children away than aren’t,” Darby Copeland, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators told the panel of legislators. “Because programs are at capacity, and because funding is not available at a facility level or staffing level. It’s getting very close to being an educational crisis for us right here in Pennsylvania.”
Copeland is executive director of the Parkway West Career and Technology Center, in Allegheny County, which has more than 1,300 students from 12 member school districts and nine non-member school districts. He said CTE has evolved from an elective program to a career major, and for many students is a career path to a high-skill, high-wage occupation.
“Most CTEs in Pennsylvania, unfortunately, lack the minimum funding required to support their regional workforce needs,” Copeland testified. Parkway West is more than 50 years old and has had little renovation to its facilities, many of which have obsolete instructional equipment, he said.
Parkway West is conducting a feasibility study for a future renovation and expansion because it’s seen a 127% increase in enrollment over the past 12 years, Copeland added.
“But once the study is completed it has to be considered by 12 school boards and 108 school board members who are having financial shortfalls in their own district,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t want to help CTE. They can’t make ends meet in their own school districts. So it’s a very tough position to put them in and it really comes down to a fork in the road. We either expand and renovate and offer CTE to all children which is their legal right, or we limit enrollment.”
The hearing, held at Westinghouse Academy in Pittsburgh, was the latest in a series of 10 hearings being conducted across the state by the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC), which includes state lawmakers from both parties and both houses of the Legislature. The body is reviewing the commonwealth’s public school funding system for the first time since 2015 (a scheduled 2020 review was postponed due to the pandemic).
For years, Pennsylvania relied on property taxes for a significant portion of the funding for its public schools. But in February, the Commonwealth Court ruled that the funding system was unconstitutional because it violated the guarantee of a “thorough and efficient” education for all children. There are three hearings remaining on the BEFC schedule: 10 a.m. Thursday at Penn State’s Fayette campus in Lemont Furnace; Nov. 2 in Enola, and Nov. 9 in Bedford.
The public can submit comments to be entered into the record at www.basiceducationfundingcommission.com/contact. All the BEFC hearings are streamed live at www.basiceducationfundingcommission.com/meetings.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.