Pennsylvania Legislature to Follow Commonwealth Court’s Education Budget Decision

By Darren McKenzie, Staff Writer

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On July 24, 2023, Pennsylvania lawmakers chose not to appeal the decision from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court that declared the commonwealth’s educational budget unconstitutional.[1] As such, legislators are now tasked with developing a new education budget to adhere to the court’s decision.[2]

The court ruled in February that the commonwealth’s system of primarily funding public schools through local property taxes violated the constitutional rights of students in lower income school districts, leaving the school system despairingly underfunded across the commonwealth.[3] While the court did not address how the commonwealth ought to resolve this issue, the legislature must provide adequate funding to ensure each school district is equally supported. Under the challenged education policy, local property taxes accounted for 43.5% of a school district’s budget, roughly 7% higher than the national average.[4]

The legislature has tasked the Basic Education Funding Commission to travel the commonwealth across 10 meetings in order to determine how best to provide necessary funding to underprivileged school districts.[5] Starting September 11, 2023, the commission held its first hearings to resolve the disparities targeted by the lawsuit.[6] At the first hearing in Allentown, the commission brought in school funding scholar Matthew Kelly of Penn State to determine what districts were the most underfunded by the current policy – particularly those with a higher population of Black and Latino students.[7] Here, Kelly determined that an additional $6.2 billon was needed in order to make up for the shortcomings in the current education funding policy.[8]

Currently, lawmakers are divided on how best to address this funding shortfall and where might be best to send the money. For legislative Republicans, many are looking to increase funding towards vouchers for private school scholarships.[9] This comes from support of constituents looking for alternatives to the public school system, as well as a previous budget proposal to include $100 million for private school vouchers that was vetoed by Governor Josh Shapiro.[10] Regardless, many legislative Republicans are still hopeful that such vouchers can help alleviate some of burden faced by school districts in allowing students to attend an alternative school.[11] Across the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, opposed the voucher program for its potential to harm crucial programs in the public education system by taking money away from the system.[12]

The most recent hearing was held on September 28, 2023, in Hanover, where the commission heard testimony from the Pennsylvania School of Business Officials and Sherri Smith, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.[13] During the hearing, the conversation centered around the need to improve the infrastructure of schools across the commonwealth. In particular, Smith addressed how the lack of proper air conditioning is creating “too many unhealthy buildings” that not only put students at risk of illness, but further exemplifies the disparity in school districts due to a lack of adequate funding.[14]

The commission has five more meetings planned for the rest of the year.[15] Through these meetings, the commission is tasked with developing a new funding formula for the legislature to use by November 30,2023.[16]


[2] Id.

[3] Id.



[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.






[14] Id.

[15] Id.


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