BETHLEHEM, Pa. - On Thursday morning, educators and advocates rallying for increased state education spending participated in simultaneous news conferences across the state.
Lehigh Valley school administrators representing Allentown, Bethlehem and Salisbury school districts gathered outside Marvine Elementary School in Bethlehem.
"We must increase education funding to at least cover rising costs so districts can operate on a more level playing field," said Nancy Wilt, president of the Allentown School Board.
"The legislature, but not only that, the Republican caucus, has maintained our commitment to fully funding education, but over last ten years has increased spending while student population has declined," said Jason Gottesman, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.
Gottesman said schools likely saved money with at-home learning during the pandemic.
"This year, schools have the added bonus. There's $5 billion in federal stimulus coming to Pennsylvania school districts. They have the ability to use that in new and creative ways," Gottesman said.
"Those dollars are best spent for one-time expenses incurred in the last 15 months. They do not help for the long-term issues of increased expenditures," said Sarah Nemitz, Salisbury School Board member.
Bethlehem Superintendent Joseph Roy said those long-term increased expenditures are mandated by the state and include costs like pensions and charter school tuition. He said those costs continue to rise while state funding fails to keep up.
"The rest is picked up by local taxpayers," Roy said.
Rising charter tuition has especially been problematic. In Bethlehem, Roy said the district had roughly $16.5 million in state funding left to spend within the district after charter tuition in the 2006-07 school year. The district projects it will have $33,000 left over in the coming year.
"Basically, the entire basic education subsidy BASD receives from the state goes out the door to charter schools and tuition," Roy said.
Gottesman defended charter tuition spending and said families should continue to have options in education.
"Really, I think it speaks more to the need for public schools to keep up with the models of some of these charter schools," Gottesman said.