Welcome to “By The Book: PGH K-12 Bulletins,” which provides updates on emerging and ever changing news in the Pittsburgh K-12 education landscape. With more than 40 school districts across Allegheny County, the Bulletins will update you on the region’s latest education news, including close coverage of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, other Allegheny County school districts, the Pennsylvania Department of Education and other important agencies, which serve thousands of Pittsburgh families. Please check back frequently and email tylisa@publicsource.org with questions, tips or Bulletin ideas. Follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #PGHed for news updates on Pittsburgh education.

06/30/21: New state budget funnels millions to public education

The 2021-22 state budget signed by Gov. Tom Wolf injects millions of dollars into public schools, including special education and historically underfunded districts.

The budget is a far cry from what advocates were pushing for, which included the use of budget surplus funds to make a substantial investment in districts looking for assistance with rapidly rising mandated costs and recovery from the impacts of the pandemic.

“Like pennies from heaven, budget negotiators had an almost magical opportunity to shatter the systemic inequities plaguing PA school districts,” advocacy coalition PA Schools Work said in a statement. “Yet they passed up that opportunity.”

Some notable education investments from the budget:

  • $200 million increase in the Fair Funding Formula
  • $100 million to support historically underfunded school districts
  • $50 million in special education funding
  • $30 million for early education

Courtroom 3002: Fight for fair education sees its day in court this September

A 2014 lawsuit against Pennsylvania leaders and education officials that alleges they are failing to supply enough funds for an equitable, high-quality public education system for students statewide will have its day in court in September.

Courtroom 3002 will house the trial set to begin on Sept. 9 at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg, per a Commonwealth Court order released in late June. Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer will preside over the case and said at a June pre-trial conference she expects the livestreamed trial to be held five days a week.

Multiple public school parents, school districts and organizations first filed the class-action suit against the governor, state education officials and state legislative leaders, asserting that inequality fueled by an underfunded system discriminates against students in poorer communities.

  • With only about 38% of public education costs covered by the state, Pennsylvania lags behind most states. Advocates have long decried state spending on education, claiming that the lack of state funding means schools rely more heavily on local wealth, which results in deep inequalities that disproportionately impact Black and brown students.
  • Close to 90% of Pennsylvania students attend underfunded schools, according to a calculation by Penn State Professor Matthew Kelly, which found that schools needed an extra $4.6 billion for students to have a chance at reaching state academic standards.
  • Black and Latino students are concentrated in the state’s least wealthy districts, with 50% of Black students and 40% of Latino students attending schools in the lowest 20% of local wealth, according to advocacy groups.

Those who filed the class-action lawsuit are represented by the Public Interest Law Center, the Education Law Center and O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

06/17/21: Staff shortages at PPS’ Summer BOOST, district may cut more than 1,000 students

Pittsburgh Public Schools officials may need to cut more than 1,000 students enrolled in its summer learning program to adjust for staffing shortages.

The district announced Wednesday the kick-off of its Summer B.O.O.S.T. program, which was set to begin on June 22, would be postponed a week due to staffing shortages and will now begin on June 28. The program will finish on Aug. 4, which didn’t change, and is anticipated to serve students four days each week when it begins.

“After several attempts to recruit staff and adjust the program model, we are forced to take steps to reduce the number of students we will be able to serve as part of our Summer BOOST program,” Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said in a release.

The district currently has 120 staffers for the program and needs an additional 127 to serve the originally planned 2,500 students this summer.

Students will be prioritized by need as reductions are made, the district said. Families will know their camp status by June 18. Summer B.O.O.S.T. offers programming for students in kindergarten through 11th grade.

District spokesperson Ebony Pugh said the district is shifting staff roles in some cases to cover shortages and considering different ways to incentivize staff. Pugh said the district is still receiving applications for new staff members, as recent as Wednesday, but that it takes about three weeks for an outside applicant to be onboarded and ready to staff the program.

Summer programs across Allegheny County and the country have experienced similar summer program staffing shortages, following a year that left many educators exhausted or burnt out.

TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

May recap:

5/25/21: Allegheny County names first director of Department of Children Initiatives
5/14/21: All students, five days a week this fall, district leaders say

March recap:

3/24/21: By May 3, all PPS students will return, district leaders say
3/19/21: No changes for PPS based on CDC guidance and more news on students’ return to schools

January recap:

1/20/21: Another in-person instruction delay on the table for PPS
1/5/21: 5 takeaways from PPS’ first address of 2021

December recap:

12/16/20: Pittsburgh Public passes 2021 budget without a tax increase. Here are 3 key takeaways.
12/15/20: For the 2021 Pittsburgh Public budget, a property tax hike is on the table
12/11/20: Advocates call out a lack of state special ed funding in PA as costs skyrocket
12/10/20: Q&A: A chance to change – One PA advocate on what PPS should fund instead of school police in 2021 budget
TyLisa C. Johnson covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at tylisa@publicsource.org.

This fact-based local reporting drives impact and creates change. Help power that impact.

James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” PublicSource exists to help the Pittsburgh region face its realities and create opportunities for change. When we shine a light on inequity in our region, like the “completely unacceptable” conditions in low-income housing in McKeesport, things change. When we ask questions about policymakers’ decisions, like how Allegheny County is handling COVID-19 safety for its employees, things change. When we push for transparency on issues that affect the public, like in the use of facial recognition software by Pittsburgh police, things change.

It takes a lot of time, skill and resources to produce journalism like this. Our stories are always made available for free so that they can benefit the most people, regardless of ability to pay. But as an independent, nonprofit newsroom, we count on donations from our readers to support this crucial work. Can you make a contribution of any amount (or better yet, set up a recurring monthly gift) to help ensure we can continue to report on what matters and tell stories for a better Pittsburgh?

TyLisa C. Johnson

TyLisa C. Johnson is the Audience Engagement Editor at PublicSource. She’s passionate about telling compelling human stories that intersect with complex issues affecting marginalized groups. Before joining...