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Guest Opinion

Pa. must address unconstitutional school funding


For decades, public school educators and support professionals have witnessed the devastating impacts of underfunding in our public schools.

Students who need extra help with subjects such as math or science are not getting it. Large class sizes make it difficult for teachers to give students the attention they need. And too many students are learning in aging buildings with outdated electrical and HVAC systems.

Evidence of all this and much more came to light in a series of hearings before the state’s Basic Education Funding Commission this fall, but all you really have to do is ask our teachers and support professionals. They’ll tell you.

Day in and day out, we see the needs of students go unmet.

Many underfunded schools need more school nurses, counselors, and psychologists. Or they lack the resources necessary for classroom instruction, special education, remedial support or career and technical education.

All of these unmet needs impact our students, and when we ask “why?” the answer is almost always “funding.”

Some school districts have enough. Too many don’t.

In heartbreaking conversations with colleagues in our neediest school districts, I hear story after story about how their students are in desperate need of academic and mental health supports that are unattainable without more resources.

We didn’t need a commission to tell us this. Teachers like me and the 177,000 Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) members I represent face these challenges every day. We know that our school funding system is broken, inadequate, and inequitable.

About a year ago, the Commonwealth Court agreed, declaring Pennsylvania’s public school funding system unconstitutional.

The Basic Education Funding Commission was convened in the fall, and the evidence it gathered helped inform a detailed report adopted by a majority of the commission members that provides a foundation for the work that lies ahead.

Gov. Josh Shapiro understands how urgent this crisis is and has included many of the recommendations from the Basic Education Funding Commission’s majority report in his FY 2024-25 state budget proposal. His budget would increase basic education funding by nearly $1.1 billion in the upcoming fiscal year, the first payment in a multiyear process to ensure that our funding system passes constitutional muster.

Seventy-four percent of our school districts currently spend less than the $13,704 per student “adequacy target” that the majority of commission members believe every school district should spend. Gov. Shapiro’s plan would drive additional state funds to those districts so that all of them can eventually reach that target.

Just as important, 34% of school districts levy higher local taxes than they should simply because they have used local revenues to pay for programs, salaries, and supports that state funds should have covered over the years. Gov. Shapiro’s plan would increase their state funding as well.

PSEA has more on Gov. Shapiro’s budget, including an interactive calculator tool to explain the basic education funding proposal, at

This school funding plan requires a significant investment now and in the years to come. That has some lawmakers questioning whether these funding increases are too expensive.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when you defer maintenance on anything — whether it is a building, a bridge, a highway, or a school funding system that supports 1.7 million public school students.

When you delay fixing something that’s broken, the cost goes up. Every time.

Fortunately, the commonwealth’s tax revenues exceed expenditures, and we have a nearly $14 billion surplus. These are the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. They shouldn’t be sitting in a bank account in Harrisburg. We should invest this money in our public school students.

Policymakers should take note that this is not optional. The Commonwealth Court has made it clear that the state must act to ensure Pennsylvania’s public school system is constitutional.

There is no political excuse for inaction, no fiscal reason to spend less than the governor proposed, and no legal rationale for delay.

Pennsylvania’s students have waited decades for policymakers to take bold action to address the urgent funding needs in their schools. Now is the time to get this done.

Our students can’t afford to wait another moment.

Aaron Chapin is a Stroudsburg Area middle school teacher and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). An affiliate of the National Education Association, PSEA represents about 177,000 active and retired educators and school employees, aspiring educators, higher education staff and health care workers in Pennsylvania.

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