Unfair education funding and its problems detailed by experts

After years of chronic underfunding, experts detail issues, need for change

DOWNINGTOWN, March 5 – After years of chronic underfunding, state lawmakers should focus on how much investment in public education is needed, experts detailed. The House Majority Policy Committee hosted a hearing on the topic at the Chester County Intermediate Unit Tuesday.  

“We heard directly from officials, administrators and taxpayers on the tragic consequences from decades of chronic under-funding of education,” said hearing host Rep. Danielle Friel-Otten, who represents portions of Chester County – including the borough of Downingtown. “Underfunding has not only had drastic effects on students, including class size increases and slashing school library funding, but it also has placed an undue burden on residents through increased property taxes.” 

Experts explained how an absence of fair and equitable funding at the state level for public education has caused financial burdens for residents, forcing taxpayers to cover the shortfall in funding when property taxes are raised to fund local schools. While affluent school districts might be able to correct the injustice through higher property taxes, many districts are left behind.

During testimony, a Pottstown School District board member explained how her district had the fourth-highest tax burden in the state. Experts also detailed how a lack of funding has had negative impact on teachers, staffing and early learning education.   

“Pennsylvania needs to support all our school districts and bring them into constitutional compliance,” House Majority Policy Committee Chairman Ryan Bizzarro said. “Lack of educational resources not only directly affects the next generation, but it also negatively impacts taxpayers, education staff salaries, workforce development and public safety.”   

Tuesday’s House Majority Policy hearing featured testimony from Pamela Brown, Pennsylvania State Education Association Southeastern Region President; Laura Johnson Pottstown School District board member and treasurer; Susan Spicka, Education Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director; Donna Cooper, Children First PA Executive Director; and Dan Urevick, Public Interest Law Center.

Since taking the majority for the first time in 12 years, House Democrats have passed measures to correct education issues. The House passed the first cyber charter reform bill that would save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. The House also passed a bill authored by Friel-Otten, Rep. Peter Schweyer and Rep. Gina H. Curry that would create a Student Teacher Stipend Program. Both bills await action by the GOP-controlled state Senate.

“There is no way funding vouchers solves the unconstitutional funding of our public schools as ruled by the Commonwealth Court,” Cooper said.   

Spicka also decried the possibility of more money going to vouchers, noting it has amplified the mission of schools which espouse Christian Nationalism ideology and hate – or at the very least a lack of acceptance of LGBTQ+ students.

Information about this hearing and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy. Livestream of the hearing can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fhp3abfM_0. Photos to be used for publication can be found at pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee/Galleries.