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School superintendents share costs of Pennsylvania's K-12 funding model at House hearing

A classroom at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa., Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
Matt Rourke
/
AP
A classroom at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa., Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

Members of Pennsylvania's House Appropriations and Education committees heard expert testimony in Pittsburgh on Thursday as part of a joint effort to gather input on the state's school funding model.

A Commonwealth Court judge tasked lawmakers with revising the state’s current K-12 funding system after deeming it ‘unconstitutional’ in a ruling earlier this year.

Greater Johnstown school superintendent Amy Arcurio said the district’s students are capable, though the resources needed to help them reach their full potential — like 1:1 tutoring or behavioral counseling — are limited.

“We and other low-wealth districts across the Commonwealth are forced to perform a type of triage, deciding which kids get these services this year, and, unfortunately, which kids do not,” Arcurio said.

Johnstown was one of six school districts that filed the fair funding lawsuit that ordered the lawmakers to fix the school funding system so that the Commonwealth may provide its 1.7 million students with a “meaningful opportunity to succeed,” as guaranteed under law.

Butler Area school superintendent Brian White told House leaders that districts like his don’t have sufficient funding to maintain competitive wages.

White said Butler, located north of Pittsburgh, offers a starting salary of $49,523, though an adjacent district offers salaries of $10,000 greater or more.

“Within 30 minutes of us are multiple districts where the salaries exceed $100,000,” White said.

While the district does not have a high number of vacant positions, White said it doesn’t have a sufficient number of experienced teachers. The district saw 14 teachers retire last year, and 15 more resign to take better-paying positions in neighboring districts.

“Our teachers learn their profession and develop their expertise as they gain experience,” he continued. “Unfortunately, as they truly have those skills to make a significant impact on students, they find higher paying jobs.”

White said any influx in state funding for schools must also be paired with policy changes aimed at fixing the Commonwealth’s teacher shortage and bolstering the student-teacher pipeline.

He urged lawmakers to convene superintendents across the state as they work to fix the Commonwealth’s funding system so they may offer their insight.

House members will hear additional testimony in Monoca on Friday and in Philadelphia later this month.

Jillian Forstadt