Pa. House Democrats float $5.1 billion plan to lift state’s poorest schools

Cornell School District students walk between classes on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at the Coraopolis middle school. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

More than 50 lawmakers have co-sponsored the plan to fix Pennsylvania’s education funding formula.

by Peter Hall, PublicSource

Democratic lawmakers in Harrisburg took the first steps last week to provide $5.1 billion in new funding for Pennsylvania public schools to close a gap between the wealthiest and poorest districts that a court last year declared unconstitutional. 

The legislation in the state House, proposed by Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, follows the recommendation of a bipartisan commission on education funding to comply with a Commonwealth Court judge’s order to fix the education funding system. 

The General Assembly has a constitutional imperative to end the funding disparity starting with the 2024-25 budget, Democratic lawmakers say. 

“The judiciary has spoken and we have a responsibility to address the unconstitutional nature of our education system,” House Appropriations Committee Chairperson Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, told the Capital-Star on Monday. “For me, I don’t know how we can deal with anything else without dealing with that.”

But Harris’ Republican counterpart on the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, criticized the proposed legislation for not including revenue to pay for the plan. Grove said he also believes resetting the system through zero-based budgeting is the answer.

“Nothing in the Commonwealth Court ruling says we need more money,” Grove said.

House Democrats have a narrow one-vote majority and are likely to pass a budget that reflects their legislative priorities. But Republicans who control the state Senate fired an opening shot in budget negotiations last week clearly signaling their intention to slash Gov. Josh Shapiro’s $48.8 billion spending plan.

On May 7, the upper chamber passed a bipartisan reduction in the personal income tax and eliminated the tax on electricity that would add up to an estimated $3 billion reduction in revenue. 

The Senate also took steps to revive a school voucher program to provide tax dollars of up to $10,000 for private school tuition. An impasse over the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success [PASS] program stalled budget negotiations for nearly six months last year.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

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