Pennsylvania House Passes Landmark Education Funding Bill to Aid Philly Schools

In a significant move, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has passed a bill that could reshape the future of public school funding in the state. This legislation aims to dramatically increase funding for education and distribute it more fairly across Pennsylvania’s districts, with a special focus on helping underfunded schools in Philadelphia.

Major Changes in the Funding Bill

The new bill promises a substantial boost in basic education funding over the next seven years. This plan is designed to close the considerable gaps in spending between wealthy and low-income districts, which are some of the largest in the country. Additionally, the bill proposes reforms in the way cyber charter schools are funded.

For Philadelphia, the bill could mean an additional $242 million in educational aid next year, and a total increase of nearly $1.4 billion over the next seven years. Moreover, if changes to cyber charter funding are enacted, the city could receive an extra $116 million annually.

The Road to Reform

This bill follows a decisive 2023 court ruling by Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer, who found Pennsylvania’s current school funding system unconstitutional. The court directed the state to establish a funding system that provides a “thorough and efficient” education for every student.

The vote in the House, which ended with 107 in favor and 94 against, was largely along party lines. Democrats supported the bill, while most Republicans opposed it. The bill now heads to the Republican-majority Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

Diverse Opinions on the Bill

Democrats view the bill as a critical step toward ensuring fair education funding. Rep. Michael Sturla, a Democrat from Lancaster, stated that the bill not only increases funding but also ensures it is spent on programs that have been proven to help students.

Rep. Jordan Harris from Philadelphia emphasized the moral responsibility to provide adequate funding for all schools. Republicans, however, raised concerns about accountability and the effectiveness of simply increasing funding.

They argue for more innovative approaches, including school vouchers that give parents direct control over education funds. Rep. Joseph Dorsie from York criticized the bill as a simplistic solution, advocating for funding that follows students rather than supporting the existing system.

Impact on Philadelphia and Statewide

Philadelphia, which has struggled with chronic underfunding, stands to gain significantly from this bill. The legislation includes a promise of $728 million in annual basic education aid over seven years, aimed primarily at the 367 most underfunded districts.

The bill also proposes a $1 billion boost for low-wealth districts that have tried to compensate for inadequate state support by increasing local property taxes. Additionally, it includes a “hold harmless” provision, ensuring that no district will receive less state aid next year than it did this year, regardless of changes in student enrollment.

Reforming Cyber Charter School Funding

One of the bill’s key features is its new funding model for cyber charter schools, which serve about 60,000 students in Pennsylvania. The proposed model sets a flat rate of $8,000 per pupil for regular education and just over $13,000 for special education students. This change is expected to save districts over $500 million annually, with Philadelphia alone potentially saving $243 million.

Cyber charter schools have been criticized for their financial practices and educational results. This reform aims to standardize their funding, which currently varies widely across districts.

Moving Forward

As the bill moves to the Senate, it becomes a central topic in the state’s budget negotiations, which need to be finalized by June 30. Education advocates are hopeful, seeing this as a turning point for Pennsylvania’s children. They urge the Senate to quickly pass the legislation.

Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg from the Public Interest Law Center, a key player in the lawsuit leading to the court ruling, expressed his optimism about the bill’s potential to revolutionize education in Pennsylvania. He envisions a future where all children have access to quality education, supported by new resources such as additional teachers and counselors.

With the Senate now taking up the bill, Philadelphia leaders, including Mayor Cherelle Parker, are pressing for swift action to secure a state budget that finally addresses the city’s long-standing educational funding issues.

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