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United Way of Lancaster County


Rally calls on Pa. Senate to pass education funding bill

With Penn Manor High School as a backdrop, State Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El, at podium, introduces a rally calling for the Pennsylvania Senate to pass an education funding bill passed Monday by the House, on Thursday, June 13, 2024. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Central Pennsylvania state legislators, educators and other advocates gathered in Millersville Thursday morning to rally public support for the education funding bill that passed the state House this week and urge the Senate to follow suit.

The quality of Pennsylvania’s public education system is at stake, state Rep. Manuel Guzman, D-Reading, said: “We really are at a precarious moment.”

The bill in question is House Bill 2370. It tackles the funding inequities that last year led Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer to declare Pennsylvania’s education funding system unconstitutional. School District of Lancaster was among the plaintiffs in the case, which took a decade to resolve.

H.B. 2370 calls for increasing basic education funding by $5.1 billion over the next seven years, with most of the money going to the 367 of the state’s 500 school districts.

They are the ones identified as underfunded according to a formula that accounts for districts’ poverty levels, English as a Second Language students and special education students. The plan stems from the majority report of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which reviewed Pennsylvania’s education funding in light of Jubelirer’s ruling. (Its Democratic co-chair was state Rep. Mike Sturla of Lancaster County.)

Speakers at the “Finish the Job” education funding rally, from left to right. Top row: State Rep. Manuel Guzman, state Rep. Justin Fleming, Manheim Township School Board President Nikki Rivera. Middle row: Penn Manor teacher Maria Vita, Penn Manor School District resident Michele Tappany, former Solanco Superintendent Martin Hudacs. Bottom row: Penn Manor teacher Matt Kersic, Penn Manor 2022 graduate Kelsey Hilken, POWER Interfaith representative and retired educator Brenda Morales.

This table shows the additional funding that Lancaster County school districts would receive in 2024-25 under the bill the state House passed on Monday. (Source: Pa. House)

The rally, titled “Finish the Job,” was held in partnership with the advocacy group PA Schools Work. Speakers described H.B. 2370 as transformative, saying it would allow districts to hire more staff, pay them better, fix their crumbling and outdated buildings and buy up-to-date textbooks, IT systems and other equipment — all without resorting to property tax increases that would further burden their homeowners.

In Lancaster County, School District of Lancaster would get the largest dollar increase: $9.5 million. Manheim Township would get the largest percentage increase: 35.6%.

The bill includes a “hold harmless” provision so that no district would lose funding.

This is a “watershed” moment, said Daniel Uverick-Ackelsberg, a senior attorney with the Public Interest Law Center, was on the team representing the plaintiffs in the fair-funding lawsuit.

Dan Uverick-Ackelsberg

State leaders now have the chance, he said, to reform the most unfair education funding in the United States and make it one that recognizes the value of every child.

The seven-year timeline provides predictability, state Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El said, allowing districts to budget without the annual uncertainty over what budget negotiations in Harrisburg will yield for them.

Although a handful of Republicans voted for H.B. 2370, the caucus largely opposes it. They say the bill is too expensive and lacks accountability and that funding students directly through vouchers would spur competition and improvement.

“The House Democrats’ basic education funding plan does nothing but double down on a failing education system,” House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler of southern Lancaster County said after Monday’s vote. “… While putting a massive burden on taxpayers, this legislation provides no accountability and no meaningful measures of success.”

State Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. When the Basic Education Funding Commission released its report, he criticized it for setting “arbitrary benchmarks without any regard to the taxpayers’ ability to pay.”

At the rally, speakers decried the voucher idea, saying it directs money away from schools that serve all children and toward entities that can cherry-pick their students and evade accountability.

Critics cite cyber charter schools as an example, saying they receive inflated payments that far exceed their legitimate educational expenses. A provision in H.B. 2370 would flat-fund cyber charters at $8,000 per student, returning more than $500 million to public school districts.

H.B. 2370 is part of the overall negotiations over Pennsylvania’s 2024-25 state budget, involving leadership of the Democratic-majority House, Republican-majority Senate and Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro. The deadline is June 30, although past budgets have frequently been weeks or months late.

Brenda Morales, a retired SDL educator and Penn Manor resident, is a member of the advocacy group POWER Interfaith. Her dream, she said, is that when people who are relocating ask residents which of the area’s school district is best, the latter can answer, “All of them.” That’s what the increased funding could do, she said.

“That’s actually the best thing I’ve ever heard on this subject,” Smith-Wade-El said.