Educators across the region are urging the state legislature to provide more money, and invest at least $1.15 billion in schools to cover rising mandated costs this year and next year.By Briana Smith

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As school district leaders finish their budgets, they are struggling to find funding to cover expenses from this past year.

“Across Pennsylvania, schools were forced to cover these mandated costs that spiked by a total of $665 million dollars,” said Jamie Baxter, the Allies for Children Education Policy director. “School districts are expected to be faced with another mandated increase of $485 million next school year.”

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Educators across the region say the one-time payment from the American Rescue Plan isn’t enough.

So, they’re urging the state legislature to provide more money, and invest at least $1.15 billion in schools to cover rising mandated costs this year and next year.

They say this should include $200 million more for special education and $10 million for career and technical education.

Superintendents from Franklin Regional, Northgate and McKeesport Area school districts described the different challenges they’ve encountered.

One of the biggest ones — paying for charter schools.

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“We’re sending 750 students to 28 different charter schools within the Commonwealth, said Dr. Mark Holtzman, the McKeesport Area School District superintendent. “We pay out $9.4 million of our current budget for tuition, and it’s increased during the pandemic.”

The Northgate School District superintendent says they also need to upgrade technology and hire additional staff, but they can’t operate without financial support.

“Since the 2016-2017 school year until the current school year, we’ve seen our basic education expenses increase by 4.2% per year, while state basic education funding only increased by .23% per year,” said Dr. Caroline Johns, the Northgate School District superintendent. “During the same time period, our special education expenses increased by 9.1% per year while state funding increased by only 2.3% per year.”

Superintendents says this results in passing on the burden to taxpayers.

“The lack of investment from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has resulted in this district increasing local property taxes, 15 of the last 16 years,” said Dr. Gennaro Piraino, the Franklin Regional School District superintendent.

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School leaders say they’ll continue to put pressure on their state representatives until they receive the help they desperately need.