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Despite movement in Harrisburg, funding for Pa.'s 100 poorest districts remains unspent

Desks in a classroom.
Matt Rourke
A classroom at Penn Wood High School in Lansdowne, Pa., Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

Funding for Pennsylvania’s 100 poorest school districts is still in limbo, despite movement in Harrisburg this week.

Senators passed two code bills Wednesday that, despite other strides in education funding, left out language needed to distribute funding allocated for Level Up — a program slated to provide $100 million in additional support for struggling districts.

Education Secretary Khalid Mumin sympathized with school leaders. For seven years he served as the superintendent of Reading School District, one of the many districts expected to receive Level Up funding.

School leaders across the Commonwealth say the additional funds are imperative for districts as they seek out sustainable ways to address ongoing facility needs, pay salaries and provide a quality education for students.

Still, Mumin urged them to be patient.

“It’s a commitment that’s been previously made by the legislature — it’s going to happen,” Mumin said while on a visit Thursday to Pittsburgh Lincoln PreK-5. “[Schools just need] the patience and having the steadfastness to stick with it — to keep planning, keep budgeting, and it will come together.”

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Pittsburgh-area Democrat Lindsey Williams, who chairs the senate education committee, said the program’s funding could remain unspent if the Democratic-controlled House doesn’t push for it.

“The senate Republicans have made it very clear that they don’t like Level Up,” Williams said. “They’d rather do vouchers and help a couple of kids than do Level Up and help thousands and thousands of kids.”

The two code bills passed included a range of non-controversial and partisan priorities of the Republican-controlled senate, such as a voucher program previously vetoed by Gov. Josh Shapiro. It also allocated an additional $150 million to expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which provides incentives for businesses funding private school scholarships.

Statewide education groups, including the Pennsylvania State Education Association, have criticized senate GOP members for using the code bills to increase funding for charter, private and parochial schools.

“As a result, our students and future educators will suffer the consequences of their inaction,” said Richard Askey, PSEA’s president. “Once again, these lawmakers have put politics and ideology ahead of public school students.”

The lower chamber’s approval is needed before the code bills take effect.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.