March 14, 2022

Susan Spicka: Spotlight on education justice

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Susan Spicka is the executive director of Education Voters of PA. In this guest editorial for The Sentinel, she looks back at the trial of Pennsylvania’s funding of public schools. That trial wraps up this week.

After three months, witness testimony has concluded in the trial in Pennsylvania’s historic school funding lawsuit – a case to determine whether the state is providing a constitutionally-mandated “thorough and efficient” system of public education for all students.

During hundreds of hours of testimony, witnesses made clear that the Pennsylvania state legislature has failed to fulfill its duties under the education and equal protection provisions of Pennsylvania’s constitution.

Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation for the state share of funding for K-12 education. Our legislature contributes just 38% of the costs of K-12 education; the national average is 47%.

Because the state is so cheap, school districts are heavily reliant on property taxes to fund schools, and local wealth – or lack thereof – is the main driver of whether kids have what they need in school to reach their full potential.

School districts in wealthy areas that have a robust property tax base are easily able to raise the funding they need to fund their schools.

But in Shippensburg and other communities throughout Cumberland and Franklin counties, we are not so fortunate. According to a benchmark written into state law, school districts in our two counties are underfunded by a whopping total of $166 million each year.

And some of our districts are among the most shortchanged in the state. These include Shippensburg, which is underfunded by $4,458/student, Waynesboro by $4,589/student, Chambersburg by $4,378/student, and East Pennsboro by $4,233/student.

This underfunding isn’t some abstract principle. It determines which kids get what they need and which kids do not. Local wealth determines which fourth-graders get the tutoring they need in reading, which middle schoolers have reasonable class sizes, and which seniors can prepare for college or have access to high-quality career and technical training while still in school. It is teachers and counselors, nurses and librarians. Computers and STEM labs. Art and music. Smaller class sizes and remedial help for children who are struggling to learn.

Read the full editorial here.

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