Gov. Shapiro, Lehigh Valley lawmakers acknowledge political divisions, outstanding education funding

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BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Education funding unfinished business state lawmakers should take up, Gov. Josh Shapiro recently said.

Speaking at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon before Thanksgiving, Shapiro said he hopes the next budget proposal will include a new school funding formula created with bipartisan support and more education dollars.

He also admitted that he is working on a politically divided General Assembly. After November’s election results, Pennsylvania is the only state in the US where Republicans and Democrats each control one state legislature. Republicans control the Senate and Democrats unanimously control the House.

The Commonwealth Court issued a historic ruling in February that the state was unconstitutionally subsidizing the poorest public schools. The Basic Education Funding Commission, made up of members from both political parties, has held a series of hearings from teachers, lawyers and experts on how to address inequities in government funding, and is expected to report back soon on recommended fixes. Some advocates say it could cost more than $6 billion for poorer counties to reach parity with wealthier counties, but Republican lawmakers oppose approving billions of dollars.

“I’ve asked them to finish their work around January 1st so that I can announce both a bipartisan formula and funding for public education in my next budget,” Shapiro said.

Housing Education Committee Chairman Peter Schweizer (D-Lehigh County), a member of the BEF Commission, told LehighValleyNews.com recently that the discussions around the report were fruitful.

“Between the four caucuses and the governor’s office, I think the numbers have been working out for the most part in good faith,” Schweier said. “Sometimes we come at it with passion and from different perspectives, but I believe everyone is very honest and working very hard, you know, in a very coordinated way.

Pa. State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton) pointed to funding disparities when lawmakers passed omnibus school code legislation on both sides of the aisle earlier this month. The Democrat, who represents the Bethlehem Area and Easton Area School Districts, said the state’s basic education funding formula would short BASD by $63 million, while Easton has an $11.5 million shortfall.

Boscola also noted in an emailed news release that the code did not include $100 million in Step Up funds, which would provide additional dollars to the state’s 100 poorest school districts. The Bethlehem area and Allentown school districts are eligible for the upgrade, but the money has been held up by a Senate Republican’s partisan fight over $100 million in private tuition scholarships for families.

“So this year, the Bethlehem Area School District will have a $1.6 million hole in the budget because the step-up was not funded,” Boscola said in a statement.

“Now maybe the school district’s local property owners could be asked to handle the variance.”

State Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton

Shapiro continued his support for private education scholarships during an appearance at the Pennsylvania Press Club. Debate over school choice earlier this year led to a months-long budget impasse, with the governor fighting with Senate Republicans to pass school vouchers and line-item Democrats to veto the budget.

Schweier said the House continues to pass the Level Up funding bill, but the Senate won’t authorize the funding for schools. The Allentown School District, which Schweier represents, is currently slated to receive $6.2 million in step-up dollars. He said he believes ASD and several other school districts didn’t raise rates in last summer’s budget because of the state’s budget crisis.

“I think most school district administrators are frustrated with the unpredictability of Harrisburg,” Schweyer said. “And you know, what we have to do is our total inability.”

Shapiro’s next budget plan is expected in early February.





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