What the American Rescue Plan means for PA’s public schools

from the good people at Education Voters of Pennsylvania:
Pennsylvania will receive nearly $5 billion in one-time federal funding for K-12 schools in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021 through the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSER).
Ninety percent of the ARP ESSER funding, or $4,372,333,875, will flow directly to school districts and charter schools in an amount proportionate to what each received in federal Title I-A funding in 2020-21. Title I is a federal program that provides funding to public schools based on the number of low-income students they educate in recognition of these students’ educational needs.
Click HERE to see how much each PA school district and charter school will receive.
The rest of the ARP ESSER funding will flow to the state, which is required to use some of this money to support learning recovery, summer enrichment, after school programs, and services for homeless students.
District and charter schools will be required to use at least 20% of the funds they receive to address lost learning time for students. They will have the freedom to spend the remaining 80% of funding based on local needs and priorities within the requirements of ARP.
As the Learning Policy Institute explains, federal funding will allow school districts to address short-term needs associated with the pandemic and to invest in the structural changes that can, over the long term, make schools more equitable and whole-child focused. For example, states and districts are allowed to use these funds to make investments to:
  1. Accelerate student learning through extended school year, summer enrichment, or high-quality, evidenced-based tutoring programs;
  2. Provide students and staff with safe school reopenings that align with public health guidance;
  3. Upgrade school facilities for healthy learning environments;
  4. Invest in wraparound supports, including through the use of community schools; and
  5. Stabilize and diversify the educator workforce and rebuild the educator pipeline.
However, these non-recurring federal funds will not solve the longstanding, multi-billion funding shortfall in Pennsylvania’s schools, which has been driven largely by mandated costs beyond school districts’ control, including special education costs and charter school tuition payments, which will reach $2.8 billion this school year.
And Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate leadership made this clear in a letter written to all the state’s superintendents, urging them to use one-time federal relief dollars for non-recurring, one-time costs related to the pandemic and not for these ongoing mandated costs.
The senators wrote: “…federal stimulus funding should appropriately be expended for one-time purposes that can be aligned with the one-time federal dollars.”
We join our partners in the PA Schools Work coalition to urge the General Assembly and the governor to invest at least $1.15 billion in our schools in the 2021-2022 state budget to cover rising mandated costs this school year and the next. These are recurring costs that should not be paid for with one-time federal dollars. This investment should include $200 million more for special education and $10 million for career and technical education (CTE)–Career and Technical Centers do not receive any ARP ESSER Funding. Education Voters and many of our partners are also advocating for an additional $100 million investment in a Level Up supplement, which will drive additional funding to districts that have the fewest dollars available to meet their students’ needs.
In the current year, while state funding for schools was flat, PA school districts were forced to cover mandated costs that spiked by $665 million—including a massive increase in charter school tuition bills. They will be faced with another mandated cost increase of $485 million in 2021-2022 year, for a two-year increase of $1.15 billion.
Without an increase in state funding or changes to the charter school law that will rightsize tuition payments to charter schools, local taxpayer will need to pay these costs through higher property taxes or districts will need to make deep cuts in programs and services for students.
We are going to need to work hard to convince the General Assembly to follow Governor Wolf’s lead and make a commitment to increasing funding for all schools at a level that will take a big step toward allowing them to prepare students for a productive life after graduation. Without a substantial increase in recurring state funding this year, the General Assembly will continue to narrow and limit students’ futures and the future of the commonwealth.
Stay tuned as budget discussions are starting to heat up in Harrisburg and lawmakers will need to hear from their constituents who care about public education.
Susan Spicka