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Philadelphia coalition calls on state to pass House education plan to inject billions into Pennsylvania schools

Philadelphia lawmakers, education leaders calls on state to pass House education plan
Philadelphia lawmakers, education leaders calls on state to pass House education plan 02:19

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker said city schools have been long underfunded. Now, she's calling on the state to do better.

"We have waited too long. We have done our part. We are now looking to Harrisburg to ensure our students have the future that they deserve," Parker said.

The mayor was surrounded by an unusual coalition of education stakeholders, many of whom are often at odds with one another. But public and charter school leaders, lawmakers, union heads, advocates and more all came together to call on state lawmakers to push a state House-led education funding plan across the finish line.

"The groups assembled here today have put aside their differences for the good of our students and the good of our city," Parker said from City Hall on Tuesday.

The House plan, which passed 107-94 on Monday evening, was born out of a 2023 ruling by the Commonwealth Court that deemed the state's education funding system unconstitutional.

The bill would infuse $5.1 billion in new state funding to schools across the state over seven years. Philadelphia public schools would see $1.4 billion over that timeframe and $242 million in new money for the upcoming school year.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Tony Watlington said the money would be "significant" and help the district fund a variety of areas.

"It will help us hire more teachers and invest in their training and development. We can improve our facilities. And we can make sure we can invest more resources in our young people and their social and emotional learning," Watlington said.

But the House's plan is far from a guarantee. Only five House Republicans voted in favor of the ambitious bill on Monday, leaving questions as to whether it can survive the GOP-controlled state Senate.

"Too soon to say," Republican state Sen. Dave Argall, the head of the Senate Education Committee, said. 

Argall says there is broad and bipartisan support to do more for education and that his committee will review the bill when it makes its way to the Senate. But he notes that the plan moved quickly through the lower chamber.

"It was passed by the House without a lot of discussion or bipartisan cooperation," Argall said. "We're going to take a look at it. I believe in doing more. The key question is how much more?"

One of his concerns was committing money years in advance.

"The fear is that whatever the legislature says today about five or six or seven years, we can't obligate, legally, future general assemblies," said Argall, who represents parts of Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne Counties.

Argall did note that he's hearing the same calls from parents and educators in his area: that the state needs to do more to better fund schools. But the senator says that will likely mean Republicans and Democrats coming to the table to hammer out a deal.

"Somehow, some way, our Republicans and Democrats here are going to have to find a way to reach agreement," Argall said.

In Philadelphia, those on the coalition say state lawmakers should take note of what they've done.  

"We're all working together in Philadelphia. Let us be the example of what we would like Harrisburg to do as well," Dawn Chavious, a spokesperson for the African American Charter School Coalition, said. 

Argall said talks on education funding in the Senate have already started. The deadline for lawmakers to pass a state budget is July 1.

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