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Pennsylvania Democrats seeking fairer school spending system, emboldened by Shapiro win

The election of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro as Governor – as well as the distinct possibility that his fellow Democrats will take control of the state House of Representatives away from Republicans — could ultimately mean the state will invest more money in education.

A change in the leadership of the Chamber could also have an impact on the current state school funding file it involves a challenge by the plaintiffs that the state school spending system is unfair, inadequate and deprives students of a high quality education.

In his victory speech on Tuesday night, Shapiro said that with his election, “true freedom has won, the kind of real freedom that sees possibility in all of God’s children, which then compels us to intervene for those children. and invest in their public school and give them a shot.”

At a press conference in Philadelphia with several area lawmakers who spoke confidently about the election results that are still being counted, Democratic Representative Matthew D. Bradford, who represents part of Montgomery County, said that when elections and legislative sessions, Democrats have always called for the state to spend more money on schools.

“Everyone knows that our schools are chronically underfunded,” he said, and that funding is unfairly distributed.

These discrepancies, he pointed out, hurt children of color the most.

“No one with a clean conscience can tell you that Pennsylvania is doing well when it comes to public education,” Bradford said. He added that during the $850 million increase for schools in the current state budget represented progress, “We need to do more, we need to be strategic, we need to work with our new governor, and we plan to do that as a Democratic majority.”

An increase in K-12 spending and a change to the state’s school funding formula would likely be a particularly big boon for Philadelphia schools, which have proportionately fewer resources for a student population facing greater socio-economic challenges compared to surrounding suburban districts.

Republicans have controlled the House since the 2010 election. The 50-member Senate is on track to remain in Republican hands, but the dynamic has changed, said Democratic Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia.

“We are in a time of opportunity in education policy,” he said, with conditions ripe for major new investments, including a sizable budget surplus and a $5.3 billion public fund. dollars for rainy days. Since Ed Rendell and Tom Ridge have served as governors, the state hasn’t had that kind of financial cushion, he said.

“We have an environment where we can dramatically advance the kind of educational proposition needed to create 21st century schools for every student, regardless of zip code or economic status,” Hughes said.

Meanwhile, closing arguments in landmark state school funding case, William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al., concluded in Commonwealth Court in July. Judge Renee Jubelirer is expected to rule on the case before the end of the year.

Among state officials, only Republican legislative leaders, including current House Speaker Bryan Cutler, have mounted a defense of the current system in the case. Now Shapiro (along with Democratic Rep. Joanna McClinton of Philadelphia, who is on track to be the state’s first female House Speaker if her party wins control of the chamber) could theoretically become charged with the ability to his office. Both have said they want to increase aid to education and would almost certainly refuse to actively defend the system in court.

As state attorney general, Shapiro filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting the plaintiffs.

During the campaign, Shapiro had expressed his support for “lifesaving scholarships” that would redirect some state education aid for the poorest 15% of schools by performance – many of them in Philadelphia – and give the money directly to parents in place.

But Hughes said Wednesday he didn’t expect Shapiro to actually push such a proposal, and said the governor-elect’s goal was ultimately to get more resources for underperforming schools.

The Philadelphia and Pennsylvania teachers’ unions were quick to congratulate Shapiro.

“Shapiro has a long history of supporting public education and students in Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey said in a statement. The governor-elect’s “good performance,” Askey added, “makes it clear that Pennsylvanians are not interested in proposals to cut public school funding by billions of dollars and redirect it to voucher programs.”

Shapiro’s opponent, GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano, made school choice programs a key part of his education platform during his campaign.

Dale Mezzacappa is Senior Writer for Chalkbeat Philadelphia, where she covers K-12 schools and early childhood education in Philadelphia. Contact Dale at [email protected]

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