The Senate Education Committee concluded its final hearing this month on education reform, revealing a singular, common theme between advocates for school districts, charter schools and nonpublic/private schools: all students across Pennsylvania need more access and opportunities to high-quality education that not only enables them to transition beyond the COVID-19 pandemic but also promotes sustainable growth in student success.

Testifiers, including the PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), expressed the need and necessity for the state to do more for our children and expand opportunities across the commonwealth for students in school districts, career and technical centers, intermediate units, special education programs, cyber charter schools, brick and mortar charter schools and private/nonpublic schools.
While the target of the individual education reform highlighted by each testifier was different, the need to expand state funding—be it for improved mental health programs, broadband access, special education services, high-quality charter schools, mandate relief, or support for scholarships for private/nonpublic school students—was uniform.

From PASBO's perspective, as articulated in our testimony, the only way to address these critical funding issues is to engage in comprehensive school funding reform—reform that provides long-term and meaningful reform to benefit schools, students and taxpayers.

To get to that comprehensive school funding reform solution, the long-term conversation must change. Everything addressed during these hearings is inter-connected, and we cannot find long-term and sustainable success in addressing these issues in siloes. The solution is as intricate and inter-connected as the underlying problems.

For example, property tax reform in a vacuum will never be sustainable without also addressing what's driving those increases: growth in charter school tuition, special education, and pension costs. Likewise, addressing the inequities in our existing education system won't get more dollars into the classroom until existing policies that are defunding classrooms are addressed.

While there are many ways to tackle this massive challenge, PASBO has identified a way to tackle all of the individual components collectively. Through this proposal, the state could provide substantial property tax relief to homeowners, especially seniors with fixed incomes struggling to pay their bills. It could also provide property tax relief to small businesses currently trying to recover from the pandemic.

That same proposal could provide greatly needed relief to schools by helping cover the growth in special education costs and also put the state back at the table by reinstating and improving the state reimbursement to districts for charter school tuition.

Additionally, the state could begin to resolve the historical inequities that the school funding lawsuit aims to remedy by leveling up those schools with the most need and the least resources available.

The uniformity of the hearing testimony highlights the importance and urgency of school funding reform for all students, all stakeholders and all of Pennsylvania. We are hopeful that the Senate Education Committee will continue to take additional steps along the path to a sustainable and comprehensive solution to the issues addressed during their public hearings on education reform and recognize that the only way to tackle these issues is to recognize that they're all one conversation.

To read PASBO's written testimony submitted to the Senate Education Committee with accompanying data visuals, please visit the following link: PASBO Written Testimony.