Patrick Dowd: Two paths for a bold commitment to Pennsylvania schools
Pennsylvania’s school districts are under strain. Inequity, underfunding and lack of urgency to invest the funding necessary to enact any real progress toward educational excellence is taking its toll on students, teachers, taxpayers and communities. Good schools are the centerpiece of every vibrant neighborhood, the selling point for homebuyers and an imperative to a strong economy.
There are two paths before the elected leaders of Pennsylvania. One path continues along a widely traveled road of inaction, underfunding and failure.
Today we are asking you to join us on another path — a path that requires political courage, but one that will pave the way for successful students, strong neighborhoods and a solid future.
Gov. Tom Wolf has already committed to act by proposing $260 million more for public education in his budget for the next year. That investment may not be all that our schools need, but it is a step in the right direction. The state Legislature must get behind it.
Every state representative and senator should commit to immediately support a proposed $260 million education funding increase, with $200 million to be driven through the school funding formula, $50 million for special education, and $10 million more for career and technical education.
This would be a strong political statement in support of schools and an essential next step down the path that leads to PA Schools that Work.
The governor’s proposed $260 million increase is a relatively incremental step along this path, but without it more schools will fall further behind. We are calling on the Legislature to take the bold move to take this funding off the negotiating table for this year and agree that it is the absolute minimum investment we can make in this budget cycle.
This investment is insufficient to put us on track to fully and fairly funding Pennsylvania school districts. It’s not enough. The path we describe requires a much larger investment — a much bolder act.
If that path is not taken, Pennsylvania will continue to and not be paying its fair share, we’ll remain at the back of the pack of states. Forty-five states lead Pennsylvania in their commitment to funding public schools. Our state covers only 37% of the cost of educating our children. That leaves local taxpayers to cover well more than half of school costs. If we do not change course, we will still have the widest disparity between rich and poor school districts — a shameful distinction.
PA Schools Work projects that the state must distribute at least $3 billion more through the fair funding formula to give school districts the resources they need to educate their students well enough to meet academic standards. That $3 billion investment is the low-water mark.
Special education students and teachers require greater investment as well. And we must fully fund career and technical education if we are expecting to have a workforce to support a robust economy.
PA Schools Work is calling on Pennsylvania’s leaders to choose the path ahead that shows their commitment to our students, neighborhoods and our future. A bold long-term funding solution is required. Pennsylvania legislators must show their mettle and commit to funding $260 million more for our students to start us down that path. They must not negotiate against our future.