With the deadline to pass a new state budget a little more than two weeks away, two of the top Democrats in the state House pressed the case Tuesday for the ongoing education funding needs of Pennsylvania’s public schools.
“Now is the time for us to make sure that we hold on and provide the promise that we made to the children of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” state House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said during a rally in the Capitol Rotunda. “That is to make sure our school districts, each and every one of them, are equitably funded.”
McClinton and House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jordan Harris, also a Philadelphia Democrat, pointed to the fact that Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the country in the state’s share of funding for public schools.
On Feb. 7, Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer ruled that the state’s school funding formula was unconstitutional, noting it leaves poor school districts unable to afford teachers, councilors and curriculum necessary to meet students’ needs and keep them safe.
On June 5, House Democrats passed an almost $46 billion spending plan with a 102-101 vote that added more than $1.4 billion to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s original budget proposal.
Now, McClinton, Harris and education advocates are urging the Republican-controlled state Senate to approve the budget the House passed.
“This budget will be a crucial step towards meeting our constitutional obligation to ensure that all students get a high quality education no matter who they are or where they live,” said Jackie Steward, the Pennsylvania policy manager at the advocacy organization Teach Plus. “I’ve seen that our education system will prevent change and struggle to adequately and accurately support all of the students with fidelity.”
After higher-than-expected revenues, Harris claimed there is no reason the Senate should not approve the budget.
In the month of March alone, the state collected $499.4 million more in tax revenues than anticipated, Harris said. He also claimed more money came in than expected in the month of April as well and the state is well over a billion dollars than what they anticipated.
“Pennsylvania is in one of the best financial buildings than we’ve been in a very long time,” Harris said. “How can you defend not investing in the people of Pennsylvania? How can you defend not spending more money on our children?”
Citing recent polling data, Marc Stier, the executive director of the progressive Pennsylvania Policy Center, said that 64% of Pennsylvania voters believe that the state is facing a severe teaching shortage.
Stier also said 69% of voters believe that there are significant differences in education quality provided by the public schools of the commonwealth, because some schools do not receive enough funding.
“I find this is not rocket science,” Stier said. “Anyone who has been paying attention to our reports knows in their own district and across the state we have teacher shortages.”
Contrary to the critics of the proposed budget, it does not draw down the state’s “Rainy Day Fund,” a fund that will put away emergency money for the state each year, Stier said.
Instead, Stier claims the budget would add more than $500 million to the rainy day fund
“At the end of this fiscal year, the state will have $13 billion of accumulated surplus including the rainy day fund and the general fund surplus that the House has adopted,” Stier said. “If we’re not going to spend it now, what are we going to spend it for? In the last decade we’ve heard people in this building say we don’t have money to fund our schools. The money is there now, it’s the taxpayers money and the time to spend it is now.”
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