In Philly, city and schools leaders respond to Shapiro’s first budget

‘We applaud Gov. Shapiro for putting forward an ambitious proposal,’ city schools Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. said

By: - March 11, 2023 6:30 am

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA — Following Gov. Josh Shapiro’s first budget address, Philadelphia city officials and education leaders have responded to the administration’s plans for education funding.

“We applaud Gov. Shapiro for putting forward an ambitious proposal,” School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr. said.

“We are looking forward to engaging with Gov. Shapiro and members of the General Assembly in hopes of reaching a final budget that provides Philadelphia with an adequate and equitable level of funding,” Watlington said.

Shapiro presented his $44.4 billion budget to the General Assembly Tuesday. In his proposal he addressed education funding, property tax relief for seniors and small businesses.

He called for $567.4 million or 7.8% more for basic education funding, which will go through the Fair Funding Formula, and $103.8 million for children with disabilities or special needs.

Philadelphia City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who chairs the council’s Education Committee, said he supports the budget proposal.

“Free universal breakfast, the half-a-billion dollars invested in building safety and infrastructure and the half a billion invested in mental health resources for students in and out of the classroom are all absolutely necessary to ensure our students go to class healthy, both physically and mentally,” Thomas said.

The budget will allocate $38.5 million to continue the universal free breakfast program for all Pennsylvania students regardless of their income. Shapiro is seeking $500 million to improve mental health services in schools

He also suggested funneling $500 million to districts over the next five years to reduce and remediate environmental hazards in schools and $105 million for school safety and security grants through the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s School Safety and Security Committee.

Pa. Gov. Shapiro proposes $44.4B spending plan in 1st budget address

Shapiro is proposing $23.8 million to build partnerships between Career and Technical Education (CTE) and industries, trades and entities that need workers from those programs.

The proposal also included a $60 million increase for higher education with $1.6 million to support parenting postsecondary schools and $29.8 million for state-related universities.

The governor’s budget proposal comes after the Commonwealth Court ruled last month that Pennsylvania’s system for funding K-12 education is unconstitutional.

“I strongly support the investment in CTE and apprenticeship programs — something we are in dire need of here in the City of Philadelphia,” Thomas said. “Gov. Shapiro is right: our higher education system is inaccessible and inequitable, so we must give young Philadelphians, especially Black and Brown ones, access to alternative career paths other than simply a college degree.”

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) president Jerry T. Jordan said the proposal addresses crucial issues the school district is currently facing.

“Gov. Shapiro outlined a half-billion dollar investment in school facilities over the next five years that will serve as an important step in addressing our ongoing facilities crisis,” Jordan said.

Pa. lawmakers react to Shapiro’s $44.4B budget proposal, marking the beginning of negotiations

“This is an issue that the PFT, in partnership with the more than 70 members of our Fund Our Facilities Coalition, has championed,” he said. “He also outlined necessary investments in mental health programs and the ongoing need to address a staffing crisis.

“We are hopeful that the urgency Gov. Shapiro conveyed surrounding our Commonwealth’s constitutional and moral obligation to provide every child with a “thorough and efficient system of public education was recognized and taken to heart by legislators throughout the Commonwealth,” he added.

The Board of Education, the School District of Philadelphia’s governing body, said the proposal is a good starting point, but more work still needs to be done.

“The Board perceives Gov. Shapiro’s budget proposal as a starting point and looks forward, during the state budgetary process, to the inclusion of the Level Up program which provides additional money for the state’s 100 poorest districts,” Board of Education president Reginald Streater said.

“The Board is also hopeful that in the wake of the School Funding Lawsuit that determined the Commonwealth’s public education funding system is unconstitutional, Governor Shapiro will work with the legislature to develop a school funding system that is adequate and equitable,” he said.

“This would give the School District of Philadelphia more tools to meet the Board’s goals for academic success and to create safe and welcoming learning environments,” he added.

Last week, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, of Philadelphia, unveiled a $3.1 billion education spending proposal.

Hughes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, called for $750 million for basic education funding, $250 million for special education, a $1 billion investment for remediation of asbestos and lead in school and $400 million for Level Up, which would prioritize 100 of the state’s highest-need school districts.

He said legislature leaders must work together to reach a final budget that will provide adequate and equitable funding for school districts across the Commonwealth.

“What the government did was create a strong foundation for us to negotiate from,” Hughes said. “We’re hoping to build on that foundation to do something dramatic in the education space.

“We have a very different political dynamic here in Harrisburg with change in the majority in the House of Representatives and change in the improved position in the Senate for Democrats, which gives him more support,” he said. “He did a good job of laying out the framework and the foundation; now we’ve got to build it up.

“He’s asked us to have collaborative conversations with the Senate Republicans in the House Republicans and amongst each other, so that we can work together to get something significant done,” he added. “Now, we have to take advantage of the moment, be wise, but make the investments necessary.”

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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