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In the States: A Spotlight on State Education Funding in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Oklahoma

The new “In the States” feature by Kaitlyn Brennan is a weekly update to keep members informed on state-level activities impacting the education and educator preparation community.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Rules State Education Funding System is Unconstitutional

Nearly a decade after a lawsuit was first introduced by advocacy groups, several parents, and six school districts, a Commonwealth Court judge ruled that Pennsylvania schools do not have the resources to adequately educate all students, and the gaps between the high poverty schools and well-resourced schools render the system unconstitutional. The 786-page ruling issued by Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer directs lawmakers and the Governor’s office to ensure that Pennsylvania schools provide all students with an education that meets constitutional standards. How the state will respond remains unclear.

Judge Jubelirer’s ruling stated that there was “no rational basis” for the disparities between hi– and low–wealth districts, which stem from Pennsylvania’s heavy reliance on local property taxes to pay for public education. While Pennsylvania has a funding formula that steers additional funds and resources to districts with lower property wealth and greater student needs, it only applies to a portion of what the state spends on K-12 schools. An analysis presented at the trial indicated that Pennsylvania will need to spend an additional $4.6 billion to adequately fund schools.

Newly elected Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shaprio released a statement on Tuesday saying:

“…creating real opportunity for our children begins in our schools, and I believe every child in Pennsylvania should have access to a high-quality education and safe learning environment, regardless of their zip code… My Administration is in the process of thoroughly reviewing the Commonwealth Court’s opinion and we are determining next steps.”

Read the ruling in its entirety.

 State Officials Consider Rejecting Federal Education Funding

 State officials in Tennessee and Oklahoma are considering rejecting all federal education funding in favor of operating their schools with only state dollars. The move would essentially free the states from any federal mandates associated with the funds and allow the states to operate their education system independently. Tennessee’s Speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton, said that he has introduced a bill that would explore the idea of declining federal funds: We as a state can lead the nation once again in telling the federal government that they can keep their money and we’ll just do things the Tennessee way…And that should start, first and foremost, with the Department of Education.” Tennessee receives nearly $1.8 billion in federal K-12 funding- the state’s FY2023 budget allocated $8.3 million for education. A Republican state lawmaker in Oklahoma introduced a similar bill last month. This legislation follows Oklahoma State Superintendent and Secretary of Education Ryan Walters saying the state should scrutinize what federal money is being accepted. “We should look and make sure that any money coming from the feds doesn’t have mandates or strings attached, that doesn’t make it useful for kids.”