Education advocates praise Shapiro’s budget but call it ‘step one’ of the process

Donna Cooper, Executive Director of Children First, speaking at an education funding press conference at the Pennsylvania State Capitol on Wed, Feb 7, 2024. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

February 7, 2024

“What happened yesterday moves us closer to fixing how our schools are funded. Obstacles remain, but we are on a path that could be transformational for generations of students in Pennsylvania,” Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, said at the press conference.

Wednesday marked one year since the Commonwealth Court issued a landmark ruling declaring Pennsylvania’s chronic underfunding of public education unconstitutional.

Education advocates involved in the school funding lawsuit gathered at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg on Wednesday and thanked Gov. Josh Shapiro for proposing a $1.1 billion education funding increase that follows the recommendations laid out by the Basic Education Funding Commission.

However, they promised that Shapiro’s proposal was only the first step in this process.

“We have a plan that says how much our children need, and yesterday that plan was the basis for a historic budget proposal from Governor Shapiro, who is proposing to implement year one of the commission’s plan,” Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, said at the press conference.

“What happened yesterday moves us closer to fixing how our schools are funded. Obstacles remain, but we are on a path that could be transformational for generations of students in Pennsylvania.”

The education funding lawsuit was originally filed in 2014 and took almost a decade to make it through the courts. After the Commonwealth Court issued its 786-page decision, Republicans and Democrats accepted the decision and refused to appeal the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Shapiro reminded lawmakers in his budget address that they accepted the outcome of the case.

“We all know – and the Court has ruled – that we need a constitutional, comprehensive solution to guarantee every student the thorough and efficient education they are entitled to under Article III Section 14 of our state constitution,” Shapiro said in his address to the General Assembly.

“It should be noted that everyone here – legislators from both parties in both chambers – accepted the remedy the Court put forth by virtue of your decision not to appeal that ruling.”

“With that decision, Republican leaders agreed to come to the table and fix the way we fund education.”

The Basic Education Funding Commission found that the commonwealth needs to spend an extra $5.1 billion annually in order to adequately fund public education by 2029, and Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, a Senior Attorney with the Public Interest Law Center, said that Tuesday’s budget proposal was only step one in the process.

“This is not a one year crisis,” Urevick-Ackelsberg said on Wednesday. “The scope of the problem is too big. This budget is only step one. It will only get us part of the waiver. There is a step two, and three, and four, and five, and six, and seven.”

“We will of course go back to court if there is not a solution. We will use every tool that exists to force this to give children what they need.”





Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION | POLITICS

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