Gov. Wolf touts “historic” school funding; student activist says huge gap remains

York

YORK, Pa. (WHTM) — York city public schools will receive $3.5 million in one-time “level-up” funds made possible by federal stimulus money, Governor Tom Wolf said during a visit Wednesday, part of $6.5 million in total new funding the schools will get this year.

“The funds will enable our district to accelerate and reimagine learning,” York city schools superintendent Dr. Andrea Berry said at the same event.

“This is just a first step,” Wolf said. “But it is an important first step.”

How important?

“The intentions of ‘level-up’ are appreciated,” Harrisburg high school student activist Crystal Echeverria said. “But it doesn’t really help long-term what we are trying to fix.”

She and others complain, and Governor Wolf agrees that what’s known as the “hold-harmless” school funding formula adopted in 1990 is harmful to districts whose enrollments have grown since then. The agreement then assured shrinking school districts their funding wouldn’t shrink. The upshot: more money per student in those districts and less in the growing districts.

And even if this part was unintentional, the other upshot, according to Echeverria: “Black and brown students are disproportionately underfunded compared to their white classmates.”

A 2016 legislative deal agreed to allocate new funding based on a new formula, taking into account actual enrollment and other factors. Echeverria says the problem is, only 5% of funding is considered new.

“And because of that, the students that need more are getting less,” she said.

The reallocation of new funds partly explains the $3 million in funding of the $6.5 million increase for York that didn’t come from “level-up.”

Alongside York’s $3.5 million, Harrisburg city schools are getting $2.4 million in the one-time funding; the School District of Lancaster is getting $2.2 million; and among smaller Midstate Pa. districts, Columbia Borough and Ephrata are both getting $360,000 and Shippensburg $265,000.

State Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), whose legislative district includes some districts that benefit from the old formula and others that are shortchanged, previously told abc27 the 2016 compromise was imperfect but better than nothing, in terms of gradually shifting funding without, she said, bankrupting some school districts by quickly yanking money from them.

“That’s the challenge of legislating, is finding that compromise,” she said. “We didn’t get there [to the pre-2016 inequities] overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it overnight.”

Wolf argued Wednesday that better-funded schools benefit even people who don’t live in those school districts.

“We diminish our own lives by diminishing the educational experience of any child in Pennsylvania,” he said.

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