by Danielle Smith

More school funding for basic and special education, along with more funding targeted to lower-income districts are on the wish list of a Pennsylvania advocacy group for public schools.

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget includes an increase of just over $567.4 million for education, or 7.8%, with an increase of almost $104 million for special education.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center-Pennsylvania, said her group is asking legislators to improve on the governor’s plan with what she calls a “significant down payment” in this year’s budget, and an action plan for reforming the funding system moving forward.

“In the short term, we’re looking for a budget that allocates an additional $700 million for basic education funding, $300 million in ‘Level Up’ funding, and $237 million for special education in this year’s budget,” Gordon Klehr outlined.

She noted the Commonwealth Court decision made clear earlier this year Pennsylvania’s system of funding public schools is unconstitutional and must be revamped. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of students are attending schools without enough basic resources for them to receive a quality education. 

Advocates are going to Harrisburg on April 26 to meet with legislators about the Level Up program, along with other school funding needs. Gordon Klehr emphasized it is all part of the down payment they are asking for, of about $2 billion in new education funding. Their other priority is for state officials to make an immediate start on a comprehensive plan for a new school funding formula.

“Ensuring that the resources the court identified as lacking in low-wealth school districts are available,” Gordon Klehr urged. “Including sufficient and qualified staff, courses and curricula that prepare students for college and career, safe and appropriate facilities, appropriate books and technology.”

She added new funding levels must be based on what is needed to give students a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary education, not on legislative whims from year to year. And there is a sense of urgency, as the new state budget must be adopted by the end of June.