State Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and state Representatives Perry Warren (D-31) and John Galloway (D-140) held a virtual press conference Friday to discuss the critical need for funding to support Morrisville School District. They were joined by representatives of Morrisville School District and Morrisville Borough.
The legislators called on Gov.Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to review demographic data that has been used to calculate the state funding Morrisville School District receives. The shortfall in funding stems from an unintended consequence in the way that both the existing and new funding formulas are calculated for Morrisville (a conclusion supported by the fact that even under the new, so-called fair funding formula, Morrisville actually receives less support from the state than under the older allocation).
For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the formulas are based in part on a projected five-year median household income in Morrisville of nearly $75,000, well above some of the most challenged districts in the state. But that number is not accurate. It is not limited to the income of people living within the municipal – and, therefore, school district – boundaries of Morrisville Borough.
Instead, it includes large numbers of residents in nearby Lower Makefield Township and Yardley Borough, who share the 19067 zip code with their neighbors in Morrisville. When looking only at Morrisville residents, the median household income drops to $53,000.
“There is a constitutional obligation to provide ‘a thorough and efficient system of public education’ to all of Pennsylvania’s children, and even during our current public health crisis, this remains one of our most important responsibilities and is why we’re requesting this critical assistance,” Santarsiero said.
“Morrisville is more than just numbers,” said Morrisville Superintendent Jason Harris. “In spite of the volatility in the costs to educate students and meet mandated costs, our board, staff and administration have supported programs, which have yielded some remarkable results. … School budgets are a constant source of strain and stress on any district. However, in Morrisville, with its limited tax base and other streams of revenue, spikes in special education costs put an even greater strain on an already strapped resource. The district often relies on the use of grants to support programs.”
“Despite the efforts Morrisville School District has made regarding educational opportunities and facility upgrades, the continuation and sustainability of those efforts are in jeopardy,” said Damon Miller, president of the School Board of the Borough of Morrisville. “The issues and effects of these trends the Morrisville School District faces are not ones that will stop at the school district borders. As Morrisville declines, so too will neighboring communities as those effects bleed into our surrounding townships. We are asking for the state to step in and provide assistance in not only helping the students of Morrisville receive an equitable education as their peers in surrounding districts, but also the Morrisville community as a whole.”
The funding issue has further been exacerbated during the coronavirus pandemic, as distance learning replaced traditional classroom learning. Nearly 600 of the over 800 students in Morrisville School District currently do not have the resources to participate in distance learning. Morrisville School District applied for the Continuity of Education and Equity Grant (CEEG) to help fund the purchase of Chromebooks and hotspots, but the application was denied, likely in part due to the same flaw in calculating the level of need in Morrisville described above.
In light of this discrepancy, the legislators and local officials joined together in requesting assistance from the Office of the Governor, that an amount equivalent to what the district would have received under the CEEG program be granted to the school district as soon as possible so that Morrisville can purchase the needed equipment in time to cover the remainder of this school year.