EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — A battle for equal and adequate school funding is happening in Harrisburg as a trial puts Pennsylvania’s constitution up for debate.
Wilkes-Barre Area, Shenandoah Valley, and Panther Valley School Districts are a part of the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges the state is violating the constitution by ‘adopting an irrational means of financing public education that drastically underfunds school districts across the commonwealth and ignores the state’s own funding targets.’
For example, lawyers say Wilkes-Barre Area School District would need $3,800 more per student to provide them with an ‘adequate education.’
“Several years ago, his district had to eliminate all K-8 art classes and all librarian positions within the district. We know that there is an adequacy gap in so many districts across Pennsylvania. In Wilkes-Barre, that adequacy gap is $21.8 million dollars,” explained Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr, Education Law Center.
Shenandoah Valley School District Superintendent Brian Waite says he has 160 students in his district whose first language is not English, with four staff members to teach them.
“In 2007-2008, we had 60 with four staff members. So, we have more than doubled our number of ELL (English Language Learners) and our staffing has remained the same because I can’t afford to get another teacher,” explained Superintendent Brian Waite, Shenandoah Valley School District.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman is a defendant in the case. He said in a statement, “the general assembly has always met our constitutional mandate to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the commonwealth.” He went on to say, “In the last budget alone, we boosted basic education funding by $300 million.”
“The General Assembly has always met our constitutional mandate to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth. In the last budget alone, we boosted basic education funding by $300 million. This included $100 million that was targeted only to the poorest school districts in the state, as well as $200 million that went through the Fair Funding formula designed to help school districts with extra needs. This was on top of the nearly $5 billion Pennsylvania schools received from the American Rescue Plan approved by Congress earlier this year, and the billions in other COVID-19 relief bills approved at the federal level. Pennsylvania currently ranks 7th in the nation in terms of per-pupil spending on education, and school districts are sitting on reserves totaling approximately $4 billion. The idea that the legislature isn’t properly supporting public schools is patently false.”Full Statement from President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate Jake Corman
The complaint alleges the state is violating the constitution by ‘denying students equal educational opportunities by creating gross funding disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.’
“You look up to the ceiling, you see holes. You look on the ground, you see all types of dust and dirt. You would see cockroaches in the bathrooms. We had one or two working water fountains. You just weren’t comfortable going throughout your day there,” said Michael Horvath, a graduate, of Wilkes-Barre Area School District
Horvath graduated from Elmer L. Meyers Junior/Senior High School and testified in the case.
In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News, he recalls large class sizes, outdated textbooks and claimed science equipment was too dangerous to use.
“As much as it is a joke for our area saying, ‘Oh, you know we went to Meyers?’ ‘You know about the roaches.’ People know about those things. I don’t think people understand how traumatizing it is,” Horvath explained.
Governor Tom Wolf, Secretary of Education Noel Ortega and the Department of Education sent Eyewitness News a joint statement on the matter saying, “We acknowledge that the current system of school funding results in some districts whose per-pupil allocations are significantly lower than students in other districts, with resulting inequities in the current system of school funding.”
You can find the full joint statement below.
“The Governor, the Secretary of Education, and the Department of Education have made public education and investing in all Pennsylvania schools a top priority. It is important that all students receive a quality public education and imperative that students in Pennsylvania have equitable access to a fair education system regardless of their zip code. The Wolf Administration has made progress by investing hundreds of millions of dollars more in Pennsylvania’s schools and enacting a fair funding formula that takes into account the needs of students in their districts. While Governor Wolf’s budget has restored funding that was reduced by the previous administration, this increase in funding has not solved the various difficulties schools face. We acknowledge that the current system of school funding results in some districts whose per-pupil allocations are significantly lower than students in other districts, with resulting inequities in the current system of school funding. Pennsylvania must continue to improve equity in education and provide all students with the tools and skills they will need after graduation.”Joint statement from the Governor, the Secretary of Education and the Department of Education