Funding for Hunger, Education Equity Make Gains in State Budget
As the General Assembly passed an on-time budget before recessing in late June, LAMPa celebrated a 15 percent increase in the state’s major anti-hunger programs and an extra $300 million in basic education funding, $100 million of which is targeted to the poorest schools.
“Our hunger advocates did a tremendous job in sharing stories of the need they continue to see and convincing the legislature that we could not go back to pre-pandemic funding levels,” said LAMPa Director Tracey DePasquale. Years of level funding had meant decreased purchasing power prior to the emergency spending approved in response to COVID. The 2021-22 state spending plan includes $19.688 million for the State Food Purchase Program and $2.5 million for the Pa. Agricultural Surplus System, for an additional $3 million in spending to purchase food distributed in our community and congregational food pantries and help Pennsylvania farmers send surplus product to neighbors in need.
“The presence of these effective programs enabled Pennsylvania’s charitable food system, which includes many of our feeding ministries, to respond more rapidly during the pandemic,” DePasquale said. “They proved their worth in helping to combat hunger in the commonwealth. Although the economy is improving, we are happy that lawmakers recognized their significance and, with this budget, began to make up the ground lost to rising prices well before the pandemic hit.”
LAMPa had also advocated for accelerating the process of closing one of the largest school funding equity gaps in the country through LevelUp PA, which garnered bipartisan support to win passage as part of an historic $416 million increase in public education funding.
Pennsylvania ranks 44th in the nation for state share of funding for K-12 education. When the state share of funding is low, communities must rely on local wealth – property taxes – to fund their schools. Communities with a robust local tax base can raise sufficient funding to meet students’ needs. Other communities simply cannot raise enough money at the local level, even with a very high local tax effort. In Pennsylvania, the wealthiest school districts spend, on average, $4,800 more per student than the poorest, and that gap has grown steadily wider.
“As Lutherans, we believe that the ability to learn, to teach, to discover, create and know are gifts from God meant for the flourishing of all,” DePasquale said. “That’s why we worked for the Basic Education Funding formula adopted in 2016 to address the vast inequities between rich and poor school districts.” However, at the pace money was being driven through the formula, it would take decades for some districts to close those gaps and reach adequacy standards. The additional $100 million targets the most severely underfunded school districts, which serve a disproportionate share of the Commonwealth’s students of color, students living in poverty, students with disabilities and English learners.
“There’s a long way to go to meet our moral obligation to all Pennsylvania schoolchildren when it comes to educational opportunity,” DePasquale said. “We were glad to see the bipartisan support for making a downpayment on the future of children in the most disadvantaged districts — and they include rural, urban and suburban schools in every part of the state.”