It’s safe to say that most legislators would agree that a child’s zip code should not determine the quality of their education, but when it comes time to prepare our annual budget, that idea seems to disintegrate as we address education funding.
Disparities within Pennsylvania’s education system have existed for decades. Fortunately, here in the 153rd Legislative District, Abington and Upper Dublin school districts have ample resources to provide students with a modernized education, ensuring their success. However, if you travel just 45 minutes within Montgomery County to Pottstown School District, classroom conditions and availability of resources cannot be compared.
Inside an Abington or Upper Dublin classroom, high school students have access to state-of-the-art equipment for their STEM programs, granting their students a competitive edge. After school, they go home and complete their assignments on school-issued laptops.
Meanwhile, Pottstown School District has been ranked in our commonwealth’s top 10 most underfunded schools. Pottstown had to apply for a grant and raise donations to purchase a wheel alignment system for its automotive technology class, which is a piece of equipment considered standard-issue in other school districts.
Go beyond our county and into Philadelphia, and school days are cut short due to excessive heat, and the district’s drinking water is contaminated with unsafe levels of lead.
The legislature is past due to address this injustice.
This is largely a property tax issue. However, the main issue is that property taxes are too high.
Equitable school funding could relieve the burden of rising property taxes and reducing dependence on this income to fund our public education system. Local property taxes account for 58% of education funding in Pennsylvania, creating these stark inequities between districts. The General Assembly provides only 38% of school funding and the remaining amount comes from our share of federal dollars. The legislature’s measly contributions land Pennsylvania at 46th in the nation for public school funding.
We can afford to increase education funding, thereby providing property tax relief to homeowners. We have the money readily available to do this.
For example, Pennsylvania still has more than $2 billion in federal American Rescue Plan dollars which must be allocated by the end of 2024 or returned to the federal government. Pennsylvania also collected a historic $6.5 billion in General Fund revenue in April, and the most tax revenue ever collected in a single month. This isn’t the coincidental result of a short-sighted month of high revenue, either. Pennsylvania’s financial forecast shows that our foundation is strong enough to build on for several years to come.
As budget season continues in Harrisburg, it is our job as lawmakers to determine how we can use these extra billions to improve the lives of our constituents. Our Rainy Day Fund already has a record $2.8 billion, so let’s use this as an opportunity to actually invest in the people of Pennsylvania. Investing in students is investing into the future of the commonwealth.
A child’s zip code should never be a factor in the quality of education they receive or the resources available to them. No school district in Pennsylvania should be on an underfunded list.
State Rep. Ben Sanchez represents the 153rd Legislative District in Montgomery County, which consists of Abington and Upper Dublin Townships.