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Urban Schools Plead Funding Case to State, Public

East Allegheny, other districts ask Pa. lawmakers for help

By Dianne Ribecca
The Tube City Almanac
April 03, 2023
Posted in: State & Region

While a proposed increase in basic education funding in Pennsylvania is appreciated, public school officials that represent small school districts said last week it’s not enough.

Last week, five members of the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools — including East Allegheny School District — held press conferences to appeal to Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and the General Assembly to treat school district funding as a crisis that needs more attention.

In addition to EA, school officials in Greater Johnstown, Upper Darby, Lancaster and Bethlehem all presented specific financial information regarding the gap between the revenue they receive each year, and their operating and mandated costs.

East Allegheny Superintendent Alan Johnson presented a slide show about his district, which serves approximately 1,400 students from East McKeesport, North Versailles Twp., Wall and Wilmerding.

From 2010 to 2020, he said, operating costs have increased by $7.35 million, while mandated costs, including costs for charter schools, special education and other state and federal requirements, increased by $6.7 million.

But over the same time period, according to Johnson, the district’s revenue has increased only $7.5 million, with just $3.43 million from state support, $3.28 million from earned income taxes, and $781,000 contributed from property taxes.

That leaves a total shortfall of $6.57 million, he said.

“We need to get some meaningful charter funding reform, especially (for) cyber charter schools, that work under separate kinds of rules from us,” Johnson said. “The state was supposed to provide 50 percent of charter school funding, but only 33 percent comes from the state.”

Johnson and Christopher Dormer, president of PLUS, both expressed appreciation for the 10.45 percent increase in basic education funding in the state budget that Shapiro proposed for 2023-24. But they also both agreed that it’s still not enough.

Mandated costs are the biggest concern for public school districts and are the reason that 92 percent of the schools in Pennsylvania that have passed resolutions calling for charter school funding reforms, Johnson said.

Special education funding and costs are also significant issues, he said. 

“Federal legislation that enables special education stipulates that the federal government will support 40 percent of special education funding to school districts,” Johnson said. “By my latest account, the funding supports only 16 percnet of (East Allegheny) special education costs.”

In addition to revenues not increasing at the same rate as expenses, Johnson also expressed concerns because Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief grants will end this year.

Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security Act, approved in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania schools were allocated ESSER funds using the same formula, called Title 1-A, that allocates other supplemental federal funding to economically challenged school districts.

The money is running out and the ESSER award period closes on Sept. 30, 2024.

“We use the ESSER funds to pay for one social worker, two trauma-informed support liaisons, and our Community in Schools of Pennsylvania, Gwen’s Girls and Coaching Boys into Men programs, and that will all have to go away when the ESSER grant expires,” Johnson said.

Representatives from McKeesport Area School District also attended the East Allegheny event and expressed concerns about the end of ESSER funding.

“The money from the ESSER initiative has gone a long way in providing for these students,” said Jane Coughenour, McKeesport Area director of state & federal programs. “Chromebooks and iPads for every student, additional teachers to reduce class size, mental and physical health counselors, and much more are examples of what has been possible due to the extra funding.”

In 2014, six Pennsylvania school districts sued state legislative officials, state education officials and then-Gov. Tom Wolf, alleging that the state’s school funding system violates the clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution that promises to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education.

On Feb. 7 of this year, the state Commonwealth Court ruled that the way Pennsylvania schools are funded is not fair and violates the state constitution.

The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools was one of the parties that took the state to court.

Joseph Clapper, assistant executive director of PARSS, said he thinks the lawsuit was instrumental in Shapiro’s decision to include $8.4 billion for basic education funding into the proposed 2023-24 budget.

Last week’s press conference at East Allegheny can be watched on YouTube.

Dianne Ribecca is program director of Tube City Online Radio, host of the Consumer Review Report podcast, and a member of the board of directors of Tube City Community Media Inc. She may be reached at dmribecca@gmail.com.

Originally published April 03, 2023.

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