HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Urban school districts across Pennsylvania held a virtual press conference on Tuesday to remind lawmakers that they have been chronically underfunded, that a state court agrees, and there’s no time like the present to start fixing the problem.
Public schools have certainly gotten more and more tax dollars in recent years, and more funding is scheduled this year. But not enough, urban schools argue.
“Governor Shapiro’s proposed education budget remains insufficient,” said Frances Brogan, a Lancaster McCaskey student.
Public schools want more than the proposed $1 billion.
“To begin the process of reparations for decades of state-sanctioned neglect. Our fight has merely begun,” Brogan added.
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Educators argue they’ve been fighting for years in an inequitable system, and a state court recently agreed.
City schools have more English learners, mental health needs, crumbling buildings, and poverty. All of which simply take more money, they argue.
“When you look at it from just a numbers standpoint it’s not giving you the full context. You have to see the resources it takes to move students that are behind to where they need to be, in a short and long period of time,” said School District of Lancaster Superintendent Matt Przywara.
School property tax rates are high in urban areas and the growth potential is much lower than in suburban neighbors.
“Others are saying, ‘Hey, thanks to funding provided by the state we have not raised our taxes for 30 years.’ Folks, that’s unfair. We must deal with that as a Commonwealth or we are going to have big problems,” said Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez of the Pottstown School District.
“That ruling also didn’t give us, necessarily, a timeline or a remedy. We have to come up with that remedy,” said Rep. Jesse Topper (R), education committee chairman.
Republican Rep Topper says the court ruling is a chance to reimagine the entire educational model. Discussing the role of standardized tests, school consolidation, merit pay for teachers, school choice for parents, and more technical and career readiness for kids.
“We understand funding is a component but it’s not the only component. And if you don’t fix some of the structural deficiencies within the system, you are pouring money down a black hole of failure. And that’s where we are at with some of our school districts, whether we want to admit it or not,” Topper said.
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Urban superintendents say they welcome the conversation but are skeptical an honest one will happen in Harrisburg.
“What I have seen is people going to their corner, so-to-speak, throwing out an outlandish plan that they know full well won’t work, to basically speak to their base. But we’ve never sat and had the conversation,” said Rodriguez.
Perhaps the time has come.
“To me, when you reimagine something you put everything on the table,” said Topper.
Reimagining the education model sounds good but takes time. A lot of the schools, especially in the inner city, are saying they need the money now.