HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — There are some big funding increases for education in Governor Josh Shapiro’s first budget. Shapiro proposed a basic education funding increase of more than $560 million, as well as funding for a universal free breakfast program, among others.
Some stakeholders say they would’ve liked to see a bit more.
“His proposal is only aligned to keeping pace with inflation. Students need a budget proposal this year that truly begins to change the inadequate and inequitable public funding status quo,” said Maura McInerney, Legal Director for the Education Law Center.
In February, Commonwealth Court sided with McInerney and petitioners in the fair funding trial, ruling the state’s education funding system is unconstitutional.
“The decision of the Commonwealth Court recognized that hundreds of thousands of children in low wealth districts are being denied their fundamental right to a quality public education because the state shortchanges their communities,” said McInerney. “The current budget proposal doesn’t meet the standard that’s been set by the court,” added McInerney, who was hoping to see a complete restructure of the way schools are funded. “This is an issue that must be remedied under a new funding formula.”
Fair funding advocates were also disappointed to see no funding boost for the Level Up initiative, which provided additional funding over the past two years for Pennsylvania’s poorest 100 school districts.
“The Level Up funding, which was increased last year, has not been increased this year. That’s been a bridge for school districts who are furthest behind to try to get ahead,” said McInerney.
However, McInerney remains optimistic with Shapiro’s proposals, and believes it sets the groundwork for a new formula in the future.
“This is really a two-step process, and we’re very pleased with the leadership of Governor Shapiro in moving forward to addressing the need for a plan,” said McInerney.
In addition to more equitable funding, advocates and school districts want to see charter reform.
“Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal does not address that. There are charter school costs that are incurred that significantly impact school districts,” said McInerney.
School choice advocates like Dr. Ann Clark, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, say the budget is a fair starting point.
“What we’re looking for is no reduction, of course, in our charter schools,” said Dr. Clark. “There wasn’t anything that I found that I didn’t agree with. We were just glad that there weren’t proposed cuts, at this point, and we hope that there isn’t,” she added.
Clark says charters play a crucial role in providing unique education opportunities for students from all backgrounds.
“Our charter schools, in my opinion, are the most innovative schools we have right now in Pennsylvania. Where you have successful schools, you have a successful community,” said Dr. Clark. “We want more money for teachers, we want more money for students and for families. But it’s hard for us, as charter schools, to make the argument that more funding equates to higher academics when we keep continuing to take less money,” she added.
She hopes all sides can come together to find common ground.
“Where do we agree- let’s stop starting where we don’t agree, let’s find the five things we can all agree on and build from that,” said Dr. Clark. “If we all start to collaborate together, Pennsylvania’s educational system can rise. But as long as we continue to have fighting that traditional publics shouldn’t be there, or charter schools shouldn’t be there- or cyber charter schools or private schools or home schools- as long as there continues to be that argument, none of our schools are really reaching their full potential,” Dr. Clark added.
Shapiro said Wednesday he’s viewing the development of a new formula as a two-step process. In addition to the $567 million for daily school operations, Shapiro also proposed $400 million for mental health services, violence prevention, special education, and addressing environmental hazards in schools.