Pittsburgh, Pa. − July 28, 2023 − Senator Lindsey M. Williams, Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, issued the following statement today calling on legislators to complete the FY2023-24 budget and continue the work of the Basic Education Funding Commission:
“Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer concluded her February opinion in William Penn School District et. al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et. al., ordering, “It is now the obligation of the Legislature, Executive Branch, and educators, to make the constitutional promise a reality in this Commonwealth.”
The Commonwealth Court is right. Students, parents, and educators have been telling us for decades that our schools are underfunded and inequitably funded. We have children learning in hallways because there isn’t enough classroom space, teachers leaving the profession in droves, school meal debt ballooning, and entire buildings without nurses or librarians. This isn’t the result of a few years of underfunding—this is the intended result of decades of disinvestment at the state level and overreliance on property taxes at the local level.
There is no question that money matters in education. It allows for smaller class sizes, more caring adults in the building, mental health supports, facility repairs, and healthy school meals. Our students deserve public schools that give them the opportunity to succeed – not just in tomorrow’s workforce, but in today’s world.
And now, with the deadline passed for Republican respondents to appeal, there is no question that each day the General Assembly fails to fund our public schools, it violates our school-aged children’s constitutional right to public education.
We can start the work of meeting our constitutional obligation to provide a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education to all Pennsylvania students immediately through the Basic Education Funding Commission. This bipartisan, bicameral group of state officials was convened earlier this year and tasked with making recommendations about how to improve our system of funding public education. However, the hearings scheduled for this summer have been postponed. Instead, Senate Republicans continue to focus on efforts to divert taxpayer dollars to private and religious schools – efforts they claim will provide scholarships for some carefully selected students, but only further defund and dismantle the system of public education that they are constitutionally required to provide for all students.
That’s not all. Republicans— from the Auditor General to rank-and-file legislators—spent the early part of this year criticizing school districts for carrying responsible fund balances. But until Senate President Pro Tempore Ward takes the routine procedural step of allowing HB 611, this year’s General Appropriations Bill, to be signed, an estimated $5.9 billion in planned state and federal funding will not be disbursed to our districts. Any district that has not been able to save for a rainy day during years of continual underfunding is about to face a flood—a completely avoidable flood.
I’m incredibly grateful to our public school educators who show up every day and do the work of educating every student who walks through their doors, regardless of disability level, reading level, spoken language, or who they love. Thank you for constantly working to improve how you educate students under tremendous odds. Thank you for showing up, day after day, in conditions where you don’t have enough teachers, substitutes, paraprofessionals, social workers, therapists, nurses, and other support staff. Thank you for making sure that our kids feel as safe as they can and for working tirelessly with limited resources to meet the educational and social-emotional needs of every student.
You deserve more. Our students deserve more. We’ve known for years that this system is underfunded and unfairly funded—and our students know too. They know they aren’t getting the resources they need to succeed. It’s long past time that we address these problems. I’m ready to get to work to fulfill our constitutional obligation to the students of Pennsylvania by fully and fairly funding our public schools.”