What an increase in basic education funding means for the Reading School District
Pennsylvania’s 2023-24 budget includes a $567 million increase in basic education funding and universal free breakfast for all districts across the Commonwealth.
Districts in high-poverty communities are expected to get a significant bump in basic education funding.
The Reading School District – where 93% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 25% of students are English Language Learners – received roughly $202 million in basic education funding, which is about $18 million more than it got last year.
“This funding is far reaching and includes free universal breakfast for children. This universal breakfast program is significant and will guarantee all students – approximately 70,000 across Berks County alone – and the countless others across the Commonwealth have access to a healthy, nutritious breakfast,” said Reading School District Superintendent Jennifer Murray.
Since the district qualifies for the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision, its students already had federally subsidized free breakfast and lunches. The new state program will allow 68,412 students in Berks County – including 17,790 in Reading – to receive free breakfast, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Aside from the increase in basic education funding, the enacted budget includes a $50 million increase in special education funding statewide and a $23.5 million allocation for workforce training and vo-tech programs.
The $18 million increase in basic education funding will allow the Reading School District to retain teachers, as well as attract new ones, said Wayne Gehris, chief financial officer for the district.
The amount the district gets is based on the basic education formula, which takes takes into account the demographics of the student population, including the poverty level, the number of students who are English language learners, the number of students in charter schools and the ability of the community to support education through its tax base, Gehris explained.
“The additional funding will allow us to support the new teachers contract that we entered into in 23-24,“ Gehris said. “It will allow for our salaries and benefits to be competitive against both our county schools and schools across the Commonwealth.”
In March, the district approved a 5-year collective bargaining agreement with the Reading Education Association. It became effective on July 1. Under that contract, teachers, school counselors, social workers and nurses are set to receive a 6.29% salary increase in the first year, and then a 5% increase for each of the next four years, the Reading Eagle reported.
The district has 148 new teachers for the upcoming school year. According to the district’s website, there are 14 vacant positions for high school teaching jobs, 15 for middle school and three for elementary school.
The district is also set to hire 24 student services employees, including counselors and social workers, Gehris said. With the increased state funding, the district hopes to hire more.
The funding will also go toward making improvements to buildings and adding field trip opportunities for students.
The district is also expected to receive about $6.5 million in Level Up funding, money that is allocated for the Commonwealth’s 100 poorest school districts. That money is currently held up in the budget process.