DELCO legislators highlight opportunity for state to fairly fund schools, clean up toxic school

The 2021-22 fiscal year budget is an opportunity to return the state to its constitutional duty to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough public education system

LANSDOWNE, June 11 – Democratic state lawmakers representing Delaware County today gathered at Penn Wood High School to highlight their plan to fairly fund public schools in the upcoming state budget. 

The lawmakers, who joined their colleagues in the Senate to highlight schools’ educational and infrastructure needs, said the 2021-22 fiscal year budget is an opportunity to return the state to its constitutional duty to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough public education system and called for investing half of the $3 billion in above-expected state revenue into improving schools for students statewide, as well as fully implementing the state’s Fair Funding Formula to make sure a child’s education isn’t determined by a Zip code. 

"If public schools cannot meet children’s even most basic safety needs, it makes it that much harder to ensure students can reach their full potential," said state Rep. Jennifer O'Mara, chairwoman of the House Democratic Southeast Delegation. "By fairly funding our public education system, we can clean up crumbling schools and ensure the safety of every child during the school day. We cannot continue normalizing toxic conditions that are putting students at risk."

Rep. Margo Davidson said, “We have a rare opportunity here to take advantage of an economy that’s coming back. We can use federal dollars for health care and infrastructure and other kinds of job creation while using the budget surplus to help our kids and build a better present and a better future. Using the ARP funds for school infrastructure can address a significant issue facing nearly every school district in the commonwealth. The guidance from U.S. Treasury recognizes the disproportionate impacts COVID-19 has had in low-income communities and how the pandemic has worsened disparities that existed prior to COVID-19. We should be heeding their guidance.”

“Through the budget surplus and federal COVID-19 relief dollars, we have the opportunity to make significant investments in public education – to fix the inequitable funding process that has left many schools behind for decades and to fix the hazards that exist in some school buildings where students are trying to learn. These are longstanding problems, and we can’t let this opportunity slip by – it’s time to make sure a safe, quality education is available to all of our children,” state Rep. Leanne Krueger said. 
“Pennsylvania cannot afford to continue to shortchange its schools,” state Rep. Mike Zabel said. “Changes need to be made, and this year those changes are possible because of an unexpected increase in state revenue by $3 billion. We have the funding needed to make important changes that will improve the education system in our state, correct inequities in the funding of our schools, ensure our state economy remains robust and shift some of the property tax burdens off homeowners. I’m calling on leaders in the General Assembly to make the right decision and fund PA schools.”

“Too many school buildings across Pennsylvania have deplorable conditions that lead to hazardous learning environments for students, staff and educators alike. Because of these conditions, a countless number of children and adults are developing health issues, seen and unseen, which could cause lifelong problems,” state Rep. Regina Young said. “It is unconscionable that some school buildings continue to pose hazards and fall in further disarray while the fixes being done can only be described as a Band-Aid. As elected officials, we are obligated to provide safe and healthy learning environments. To date, the state has not done its part and that is why we cannot let the opportunity we have before us to ensure our school children get the funding they deserve, no matter where the live, be squandered.” 

Pennsylvania’s Fair Funding Formula was signed into law by Wolf in 2016 and was designed to address inequities in school districts where students were being left behind no matter how high property taxes were raised in low-tax-base school districts compared to districts with strong tax bases. In some communities, adjoining districts have the same tax rate but see a difference of thousands of dollars in per-student spending. 

The lawmakers said the problem is that the Fair Funding Formula has only applied to new education dollars since its enactment. Last year just $700 million – 11% of total school spending – was distributed fairly. The remaining 89%, or $5.5 billion, is disbursed using the unfair system the Fair Funding Formula was designed to erase. Their plan would apply the Fair Funding Formula to all school spending and protect all districts from any cuts.