Rural schools and small schools in Pennsylvania are struggling with inadequate public funding, said Matthew Splain, superintendent of the Otto-Eldred School District.
He is also chairman of the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, or PARSS. “We represent over 175 school districts in Pennsylvania with a cumulative enrollment of over 300,000 students. “
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Splain appeared in Commonwealth court in the Pennsylvania school funding lawsuit. The case is William Penn School District et al. vs. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al.
Splain made a statement to The Era regarding his involvement in the lawsuit and the impact on inadequate funding for rural schools.
“PARSS exists because rural schools and small schools in Pennsylvania have many unique needs. Many PARSS member school districts are affected by inadequate public funding, ”he said in the statement. “This is why we joined the trial in 2014 to try to make the necessary changes in school funding, so that our students and our schools have the resources they need.”
Splain has been in the OE District for 16 years, the last of which was as Superintendent.
“We always want to do our best for our children, but our budget forces us to make tough choices,” he said. “We have seen that we are able to straighten out students who have disengaged, when we provide them with intensive support over time. We have also seen that when tight budgets forced us to discontinue a program offering intensive support to these students, they again disengage and even drop out.
Rising costs, coupled with a growing number of economically disadvantaged students, children with disabilities and children in need of special education, means more students are in need.
“State support has not kept pace with state mandated spending on special education, pensions and charter schools,” Splain explained. “In our schools, this has forced us to reduce our budget to the strict minimum. Some of our fees are fixed. There is nothing more to cut.
Describing other unique needs of rural districts, he said transportation, personnel, technology and even local taxes are different.
“We have higher transportation costs because our districts are dispersed and students have to travel long distances to get to school,” Splain said. “We can’t always get reimbursed by the state for all of these costs.”
Due to the rural area where the districts are located, internet connectivity is poor and access to technology is lagging behind.
“We face great challenges in attracting and retaining both the faculty and administrators that we need,” continued Splain. “One aspect of this is that it is difficult for us to pay competitive salaries.
“And we have little local wealth to tax. When we raise local taxes, it doesn’t generate a lot of additional revenue. We therefore depend heavily on the state for funding education, ”he said.
There is more that can be done for students, if only there were funds to pay.
“We know there are more things we should be doing to make sure our students are ready for college and a career when they graduate,” Splain said. “We could do so much better for our students if we had adequate funding from the state. “
Information from the Public Interest Law Center indicates that the petitioners “seek a long-term solution to decades of inadequate and inequitable school funding in Pennsylvania.” The state constitution places the responsibility for ensuring a comprehensive and effective public education system on the General Assembly, and school districts and parents claim that the state is failing to meet this legal obligation. In addition, the petitioners claim that the state maintains a funding system that discriminates against students in neighborhoods with low land value and income, violating the equal protection provisions of the Constitution by depriving students in these communities of the educational resources they have. need to be successful.