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A call for 'bold action' to address PA school funding disparities

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Monday, November 20, 2023   

During a public hearing on improving school funding, the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission heard from people who stressed the need to set fair and adequate funding targets for every school in the state.

Aaron Chapin, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and a 4th and 5th grade teacher at Stroudsburg Area Middle School, testified at the most recent hearing. He said it is important for the new plan to be transparent and sustainable, and fix the funding inequities across the state.

Chapin noted the association has found many equity gaps, which need to be closed.

"We took a look at 100 districts that are in the lowest quintiles, we looked at 100 districts with the lowest incomes and the 100 districts with the wealthiest incomes," Chapin outlined. "We saw that these districts, with the lowest income, spend 30% less per weighted student than the wealthiest 100 districts."

The commission has been gathering feedback from educators, policymakers and parents throughout the fall. Its goal is to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the requirements of a court ruling in February, which found Pennsylvania's public school funding system unconstitutional.

Chapin acknowledged fixing the education funding system will not happen immediately, but hopes the commission will look closely at funding for special education, building construction and other educational needs.

"We also hope that they're going to be looking to reestablish the state charter school reimbursement at about $500 million, and annually index it to meet the inflation costs that have been rising," Chapin explained. "Because over the last decade, payments to school districts for charter schools and cyber schools, they have increased by $1.4 billion."

He added a clear timeline is also important, as well as addressing critical staffing shortages, as he describes the lack of qualified teachers and staff as having reached a "crisis level." He noted there has been a 75% drop in applicants seeking first-year teaching certificates in the Commonwealth.

Disclosure: The Pennsylvania State Education Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Education, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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