by Andrea Sears
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Public-education advocates have high praise for Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed education budget, but some believe the state could do more to meet its obligations to Pennsylvania’s children.
In his budget address, the governor proposed an additional $1.55 billion for education, and using the fair education-funding formula to be sure money goes to the districts with the greatest needs.
Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, said she enthusiastically supports Wolf’s commitment to equity. But she cautioned that his proposal alone isn’t enough to repair decades of harm done to communities by a school-funding system she calls “irrational.”
“One analysis conservatively estimated the current shortfall as $4.6 billion, which is still far beyond the scale of the governor’s very important proposal,” said Klehr.
She said attorneys at the Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center will continue to pursue a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school-funding system.
Klehr emphasized that the General Assembly has a constitutional obligation to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”
“We need our elected officials to craft a reformed funding system, building on this proposal,” said Klehr, “toward a multiyear financial commitment to a truly level playing field, addressing the needs of students in all districts across the state.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2014 on behalf of parents, school districts and statewide organizations, will be going to trial in the coming months.
Klehr said overreliance on local property taxes to fund education has deepened inequities between wealthy and poor districts, disproportionately affecting students of color. But she called the governor’s proposal a huge step in the right direction.
“Over half of the dollars are going to districts that are majority Black and Latinx,” said Klehr. “For years, our school funding system has allowed the students who need to most to get the least. This proposal finally addresses this reality.”