Educators warn of ‘financial havoc’ from rising special education, pension costs; call on lawmakers to help

Produced By: - April 25, 2022 2:08 pm

More than 150 educators and administrators from across Pennsylvania traveled to the state Capitol on Monday to call on lawmakers to pass a variety of funding priorities as the General Assembly gears up for the annual debate over the state budget.

The annual lobbying day, put on by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, was just one of the rallies and news conferences that will be staged by scores of industry and trade groups as each seek their own piece of the new spending plan that’s set to take effect on July 1.

The $43.7 billion budget plan that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf pitched to a joint session of the state House and Senate in February includes what the administration has described as a “generational” investment in K-12 education, boosting current spending by $1.8 billion, Chalkbeat Philadelphia reported.

As previously reported by the Capital-Star, Wolf has proposed spending:

  • $1.25 billion in basic education, bringing the total going through the Fair Funding Formula, which decides school funding, to more than $2 billion — or 26.5 percent of state funding
  • $300 million for the Level Up initiative, which prioritizes the state’s 100 poorest districts
  • A $200 million increase for special education
  • $373 million for charter school reform

Rally-goers Monday touched on most of those themes, Advocates, for instance, are seeking the same $200 million hike in special education funding this year. The final product, as is so often the case during the annual budget derby, likely will be somewhere in the middle.

Craig Hummer, the treasurer of the Elizabethtown, Pa., school board in Lancaster County, called on lawmakers to help districts meet mandated and rising charter school tuition and teacher pension costs. Districts statewide are slated to spend $3 billion in mandatory tuition payments to charter schools, which are privately operated, public institutions that receive taxpayer support.

“The growth of our pension costs have far exceeded our revenues,” Hummer said.

Districts’ charter and pension costs rose by $4.7 billion between 2010 and 2019, according to a PSBA analysis, while state funding to help cover those costs rose by nearly $1.8 billion during the same time period. In most cases, the $2.9 billion difference was almost entirely covered by local taxpayers, said John Sanville, the superintendent of the Uniontown-Chadds Ford School District, which straddles Chester and Delaware counties in the Philadelphia suburbs.

“I look to our legislators,” Sanville said. “We need your help.”

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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