Pa. Senate Republicans holding up aid to local schools, say Lehigh Valley lawmakers
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown resident Evette D’Amore sends her twin sons to Harrison Morton Middle School. She said her boys, who are both special needs children, are getting a quality education in the school district.
“I never worry when I drop my child off for school, that they're not going to get the best care, the best attention and the best experience," she said. "When there's an issue, I get a phone call. When I have an issue, I just reach out [and] I get an answer. Never a problem.
- Lehigh Valley lawmakers say Senate Republicans are holding up Level Up funding
- They say critical school funding should be released immediately
- The Democratic lawmakers are also calling for more equitable funding of school districts
But Lehigh Valley Democratic lawmakers say state Senate Republicans are holding up millions of dollars of funding Allentown and other local school districts need.
House Education Chairman Peter Schweyer and Democratic Reps. Mike Schlossberg and Joshua Siegel gathered at Harrison Morton Middle School in Allentown Friday, along with State Sen. Nick Miller (D-Lehigh Valley) to lament the shape of education in Pennsylvania.
“We are not only failing our students from a financial perspective but from a moral perspective."State Rep. Joshua Siegel, D-Lehigh
The lawmakers said the state needs to close the gap between how it funds poor school districts and wealthier school districts, which a Commonwealth court ordered it to do this year. The lawyers who represented the school districts in the lawsuit presented evidence the gap could be as much as $4.6 billion dollars.
“We are not only failing our students from a financial perspective but from a moral perspective,” Siegel said. “Our Constitution guarantees the right to a quality public education. We are constitutionally and morally obligated as a Commonwealth to make sure that every child, no matter their zip code, or their geography, no matter where they reside, they are guaranteed a quality education.”
Allentown Schools Superintendent Carol Birks said the state average spending per student is about $18,000 while Allentown’s is slightly over $15,000 per child, a difference of $44 million.
The budget Gov. Josh Shapiro signed last week after a month-long impasse included $100 million in Level Up funding, which goes to the 100 poorest school districts. In the Lehigh Valley, that includes Allentown and Bethlehem Area School District. It also included money for school mental health grants. However, Republicans in the state Senate and the Shapiro administration have said the House needs to first pass legislation directing how the money should be spent.
Schweyer said he disagrees with that position.
“We have a formula,” he said. “It's been used multiple times and it's not just me saying it. Our appropriations chairman, Jordan Harris, took to the floor of the House in the waning days of the budget debate and said ‘We can do it at any point in time. There is already a way to do this.’”
Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman has made it clear that he believes the code bills are necessary for the release of funding. The governor’s Budget Secretary Uri Monson, an appointee, and Treasurer Stacy Garrity, a Republican, also hold that position.
Pittman also questioned after the budget was signed whether the House Democrats can pass a fiscal code after recently losing their one-seat majority.
“Having a chamber with a 101 to 101 split makes it very hard to see how some of these important pieces of legislation can be advanced until the vacancy in the House is filled again.”
A request for comment to his office did not receive an immediate response.
Lehigh Valley lawmakers also discussed the need for more investment in teacher recruitment and retention, and putting money into school facilities across the state.
Harrison Morton will be celebrating its 150-year anniversary near year, having been built in 1874.