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Allentown School District optimistic about governor's state funding plan

Allentown School District
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
This is the Allentown School District Administration Building in Allentown

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It's never too soon to talk about the budget — especially when the governor makes a big announcement that could affect your future.

Allentown School District officials, during Thursday's School Board meeting, held an early presentation about the 2024-25 school year budget.

The spotlight was on how Gov. Josh Shapiro's administration's new education funding plan could improve things for the district.

"Again, this is all a big possibility. But if it comes through, it's a great benefit for Allentown School District."
Allentown Schools Interim Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Cuff

The ambitious $48.3 billion budget revealed Tuesday afternoon includes $1.1 billion in new basic education funding, thanks to a proposed funding formula that would meet new criteria required by a recent state Supreme Court ruling, and a projected $3 billion surplus.

Basic education funding is the mechanism through which Allentown and other school districts see the bulk of their state funding.

The budget reveal also announced the goal to unify state-owned colleges and community colleges, while lowering and limiting in-state tuition.

It also seeks to provide $300 million for repairs at schools — up from $175 million.

"Again, this is all a big possibility," Allentown Schools Interim Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Cuff, said. "But if it comes through, it's a great benefit for Allentown School District."

'A lot of discussion goes on'

Cuff said that according to the district's current estimations, it could mean about $18 million in basic education funding increase and almost a million-dollar increase for special education.

Jeffrey Cuff ASD
Jay Bradley
Jeffrey Cuff, interim Chief Financial Officer for Allentown School District, addresses the board Thursday

But Cuff stayed hesitant on saying to expect all of what was said at Shapiro's address.

"A lot of times, you see what's in the beginning this time of year, [then] you don't see what's going to [actually] happen basically until the middle of June," Cuff said.

"There's a lot of discussion that goes on between now and then."

"But this is a good sign for what potentially could come from districts like Allentown."

"This starts to put a rhyme and reason to the actual funding of charter schools."
Allentown Schools Interim Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Cuff

In his address, Shapiro said Pennsylvania should spend down its excessive surplus by $3 billion to invest in the state's future.

Shapiro repeated his continued support for school vouchers, letting families in struggling school districts pay for tutors or attend a different school.

But a change was proposed to how the state mandates how some charter schools are funded, standardizing the amount districts have to pay for cyber schools for each student enrolled — saving districts $262 million, Shapiro said.

Cuff said the proposed reduction and realigning to $8,000 in tuition payments for students attending cyber charter schools would be a "big plus" to the district.

"Right now, tuition for a regular student is approximately $11-12,000 per student," he said. "If it's a student with an IEP or special needs, it's approximately $34,000 for student, cyber or brick-and-mortar.

"This starts to put a rhyme and reason to the actual funding of charter schools."

That includes a $50 billion increase for special education, $100 million for mental health and $450 million for safety.

Early budget items show increases

As a result of the new five-year contract with Student Transportation of America, Allentown School District is expecting a big jump in transportation costs — 30%.

To help meet the increase, district officials say they expect a $1 million increase in a transportation subsidy to addressed the increased costs, which have been driven in large part by increased compensation to better recruit drivers.

Other significant cost increases listed include benefits (10%), salaries (4%), and charter school tuition payments (3.7%).

The preliminary budget draft is set to be presented to school board directors on March 7, with final budget available for public review on May 23.

It will be up for a final adoption vote on June 13.