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State House passes school funding bill as WCSD calls for ‘full and fair’ funding

Warren County School District Superintendent Gary Weber said the district had a “very good end to the school year.”

But the budget storm clouds remain.

While the Democratically-controlled state House passed a school funding bill based on the Democratic version of the state Basic Education Funding Commission report, it now heads to the GOP Senate for consideration.

“It still looks as though there will be no state budget any time soon,” Weber told the board Monday night. “The House and Senate are divided.”

He said the district will “see where (the bill) goes in the Senate.”

The board on Monday approved a resolution in support of “Full and Fair Public School Funding.”

That resolution outlines that the Commission “found that Pennsylvania school districts are collectively underfunded by $5.4 billion and proposed that the state should provide $5.1 billion to close this gap in seven years, plus an additional $956 million tax equity supplement over seven years for communities that have faced the steepest local tax burdens.”

It also states that Gov. Shapiro’s 2024-2025 budget proposal “endorses the work of the commission and fulfills the first year of the commission’s seven-year plan with a $1.1 billion increase in basic education funding, with most of this funding targeted to public schools that have been shortchanged by the current unconstitutional system in the small towns, suburbs, and cities where students have been the most deeply underfunded.”

The board’s resolution states that the proposal “stands up for our students by putting forward the first step of a transformative plan for the state to deliver on its responsibility to fully fund public schools in Pennsylvania based on what children need to succeed.”

It concludes by urging “the General Assembly to adopt Governor Shapiro’s historic state budget proposal and to pass legislation making the necessary multiyear commitment to address Pennsylvania’s entire constitutional and moral obligation to fully and fairly fund public schools.”

That proposal’s House version, HB 2370, hits on many initiatives that district officials have outlined as challenges – funding and the proposed $8,000 cap on cyber charter tuition that districts pay.

The bill ensures districts annually “an amount equal to the school district’s basic education funding allocation for the 2022-2023 school year.

It also establishes a minimum hourly wage – $20 – for support professionals as well as a “minimum salary” of $60,000 for teachers.

According to a legislative memo, the bill “reflects the formula recommendations in the reconstituted Basic Education Funding Commission’s majority report. Governor Shapiro’s proposed 2024/25 budget put us on the path with the call for a historic $1.1 billion increase in basic education funding.

“This legislation is the next step on that path….”

It passed the House 107-94 largely on party lines. Five Republicans voted with the Democratic caucus to approve the proposal.

Another unrelated funding issue was discussed during Monday’s board meeting – the denial of the funding for the district’s 21st Century summer and after-school programming.

Weber said that an appeal of that funding decision was denied.

“(We) did not get any feedback from them,” Weber said. “The timing of the appeal letter is under review right now.”

He said it’s unclear whether the district has any other appeal rights.

“We’re looking into that now,” he said.

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