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Panther Vy. seeks funding relief

Panther Valley School Board members don’t understand why area legislators aren’t moving ahead with funding schools fairly and tax relief.

Ahead of a rally on the steps of the Capitol in Harrisburg last week advocating for fair funding, local school board members were looking at the numbers compiled by PA Schools Work.

This nonpartisan coalition representing Pennsylvania educators and the communities put together fact sheets for every school district.

The fact sheets show how much districts would see if lawmakers passed Gov. Josh Shapiro’s education funding proposal and moved on reversing the state’s unconstitutional funding system with a seven-year adequacy and tax relief supplement.

Panther Valley, one of the poorest districts in the state, would receive $21,714,917 over seven years for inadequacy, or additional funding to help level the playing field and money to provide relief to taxpayers, according to the fact sheet.

If legislators approved the funding this year, Panther Valley would see $3.1 million in just adequacy and tax equity funding. The district would also see $458,258 in basic education funding and $160,065 in special education funding under the governor’s budget.

As Panther Valley School Board members got their first look at the 2024-25 budget this month, they asked their administrators if there were any funds from the fair funding lawsuit.

The answer was no.

More than a year after a judge ruled the state’s funding system was unconstitutional and four months after the state’s Basic Education Commission narrowly passed a seven-year plan to begin funding schools fairly, no money has trickled down to the districts.

“These are the things that need to get addressed with our state senators and state representatives. There’s people fighting against this budget in Harrisburg,” board member Michael Alabovitz said.

“This will make the difference for people in this school district,” he said. “Not just this district, many districts.”

Some state lawmakers are against approving the funding, pointing to state Sen. David Argall, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, Alabovitz said.

“Our representatives in Harrisburg have kicked the can down the road for far too long,” he said. “Most of the schools that Sen. Argall represents would benefit from this proposed funding in one way or another.

“So, I cannot find a reason why he would not support this,” Alabovitz said.

Twenty-one of the 22 school districts represented by Argall would receive adequacy funding, including Lehighton, Palmerton, Tamaqua and Weatherly, according to the fact sheets; and 11 of the 22 would get money to lower property taxes, including Jim Thorpe.

“This is what Argall voted against,” Alabovitz told other school board members, holding up the fact sheet for Panther Valley. “I don’t understand it. It benefits everyone in his jurisdiction.”

If Sen. Argall has an alternative plan that would provide the district with the funding that the Commonwealth judge said it deserves, Alabovitz said he would be willing to listen.

Argall, when asked regarding his position on the funding outlined in the PA Schools Work fact sheets and school funding as proposed by the governor for the coming year, provided this statement:

“Unfair and unconstitutional school property taxes are too heavy a burden here,” he said. “That’s why I support significantly more state aid to our local schools - for our students and our taxpayers.

“I am hopeful that we will soon have a bipartisan agreement with the governor on this important issue,’ Argall said in the statement.

Representatives Doyle Heffley and Jamie Barton were also asked for comment on school funding, but did not respond.

A feasibility study earlier this year recommended that Panther Valley replace its aging elementary school as enrollment continued to rise, but the new school is dependent on the district securing grants and increased state funding.

The school board has stated that it will not raise taxes or increase the burden on the district’s taxpayers to pay for a new school.

Alabovitz asked business manager Jesse Walck if the district would have any problem funding a new school, if the funding outlined in the PA School Works fact sheets was approved by the state lawmakers.

“No, not at all,” Walck said.