Pa.’s school funding model inhibits career and technical education growth, educators tell lawmaker
Lawmakers with the state’s Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) heard testimony Wednesday in Pittsburgh on the needs of high school career and technical (CTE) programs.
Surrounded by fire engines, ambulances and police vehicles used by Pittsburgh Public Schools’ CTE programs, educators told the commission that the state’s current funding model doesn’t provide schools with the resources needed to expand or update their programs.
“Most [career and technology centers] in Pennsylvania, unfortunately, lack the minimum funding required to enhance existing programs and are unable to open new programs necessary to support regional workforce needs,” said Darby Copeland, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators.
A majority of Pittsburgh-area residents believe that vocational, technical or other non-college training is more valuable than getting a four-year college degree, according to a recent WESA/Campos survey. CTE programs like those at PPS offer students industry certifications and job placements right out of high school.
But Copeland said many of the state’s career and technical centers (CTCs) serving students from multiple districts are turning children away, either because they are at capacity or unable to find the funding for facility or staffing upgrades.
Though some state funding is funneled to CTCs, local districts end up contributing close to 90% of funding for career education, all while struggling to pay for individualized student instruction, teacher salaries and facility repairs.
Copeland, who also serves as the executive director of Parkway West Career and Tech Center in Oakdale, said that limits what programs CTCs are able to provide.
Parkway West is jointly owned by 12 districts in Allegheny County, though some of the districts struggle to come up with the money needed to pay for their share of students. Copeland said that often results in districts limiting the number of students permitted to enroll in CTE programs, though many more would benefit.
“As long as those costs are put on the backs of school districts that are already struggling, expansion is just not going to happen,” Copeland said.
Early childhood education experts call for investments, too
The public hearing, held inside Westinghouse’s CTE Suite, was one of several the BEFC has held across the state this fall as part of an effort to rewrite the state’s K-12 education funding system.
Earlier this year, a Commonwealth Court judge ruled the current system lacked equity and therefore was unconstitutional.
In addition to testimony on career and technical programs, members of the commission heard from experts in early childhood and special education.
Emily Neff with the Pittsburgh-based advocacy group Trying Together told lawmakers that early childhood centers — often operated by K-12 school districts — also need increased state funding, especially as they look to boost wages and attract qualified workers.
Low pay has led to high turnover and staffing shortages, and about early learning programs statewide reported nearly 4,000 positions left open, according to a survey released in March. In Allegheny County alone, more than 500 positions remain unfilled.
As a result, more than 5,500 children in Allegheny County — and 38,000 in Pennsylvania — remain on waiting lists for child care.
“That supply of teachers is also going to be a critical piece when we think about the investments [needed] to serve more children,” Neff said.
State senator Lindsey Williams, who hosted Wednesday’s hearing, joined advocates and school leaders prior to the hearings start outside the school building to call for additional funding for under-resourced schools across the state.
Clairton City School District Tamara Allen-Thomas said that despite efforts to pour more resources into the state’s 100 poorest districts — the program known as Level Up — additional money is still needed to ensure districts like hers have adequate resources to both fix the plumbing and update their curricula.
“Even with Level Up funding, it doesn’t level the playing field if we don’t have the basic education funding [needed] to make sure I don’t have to make decisions about either art or a special education teacher,” Allen-Thoms said.
The commission is expected to issue a report recommending to the legislature how to rewrite the funding formula later this fall.