MORRISVILLE − May 1, 2020 − State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) and state Representatives Perry Warren (D-31) and John Galloway (D-140) held a virtual press conference today to discuss the critical need for funding to support Morrisville School District. They were joined by representatives of Morrisville School District and Morrisville Borough.
The legislators called on Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to review demographic data that has been used to calculate the state funding Morrisville School District receives. The shortfall in funding stems from an unintended consequence in the way that both the existing and new funding formulas are calculated for Morrisville (a conclusion supported by the fact that even under the new, so-called fair funding formula, Morrisville actually receives less support from the state than under the older allocation).
For the 2020-21 fiscal year, the formulas are based in part on a projected 5-year median household income in Morrisville of nearly $75,000, well above some of the most challenged districts in the state. But that number is not accurate. It is not limited to the income of people living within the municipal – and, therefore, school district – boundaries of Morrisville Borough. Instead, it includes large numbers of residents in nearby Lower Makefield Township and Yardley Borough, who share the 19067 zip code with their neighbors in Morrisville. When looking only at Morrisville residents, the median household income drops to $53,000. As a consequence of this issue, Morrisville School District has been unfairly underfunded for a number of years.
“Despite the school board’s prudent management of the district finances, Morrisville School District continues to suffer blatant inequity due to a calculation error in the funding formula. Through no fault of their own, the students, teachers, and support staff of Morrisville are forced to bear this burden,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “There is a constitutional obligation to provide ‘a thorough and efficient system of public education’ to all of Pennsylvania’s children, and even during our current public health crisis, this remains one of our most important responsibilities and is why we’re requesting this critical assistance.”
“The funding formula deals with 500 different school districts in an incredibly diverse state,” said Rep. Galloway. “There are going to be anomalies, and one of those was Morrisville.”
Since 2015, Morrisville School District and its elected officials in the Pennsylvania House and Senate, have been working with the administration of Governor Wolf to provide Morrisville’s schools with $1 million in supplemental funding each fiscal year to help close the gap. However, even with this supplemental funding, it is increasingly difficult for the district to survive. For example, in the 2020-21 school year, the district is faced with a budget deficit of close to $1.2 million.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Morrisville school district, reading to the kids at Grandview, walking the halls of the high school with Superintendent Harris and Board President Miller, attending football games and other events, and it is a special place,” said Rep. Warren. “The $1 million extra funding is more than a band-aid, it’s a bandage, but it is and always has been a short-term fix. We need a real long term funding solution. Our kids deserve to continue to have the great educational and co-curricular opportunities that we, the board, administration, teachers and staff, and the community have worked so hard to provide for them.”
“Morrisville is more than just numbers,” said Morrisville Superintendent Jason Harris. “In spite of the volatility in the costs to educate students and meet mandated costs, our Board, staff and administration have supported programs which have yielded some remarkable results… School budgets are a constant source of strain and stress on any district. However, in Morrisville, with its limited tax base and other streams of revenue, spikes in Special Education costs put an even greater strain on an already strapped resource. The District often relies on the use of grants to support programs.”
“Despite the efforts Morrisville School District has made regarding educational opportunities and facility upgrades, the continuation and sustainability of those efforts are in jeopardy,” said Damon Miller, President of the School Board of the Borough of Morrisville. “The issues and effects of these trends the Morrisville School District faces are not ones that will stop at the school district borders. As Morrisville declines, so too will neighboring communities as those effects bleed into our surrounding townships. We are asking for the state to step in and provide assistance in not only helping the students of Morrisville receive an equitable education as their peers in surrounding districts, but also the Morrisville community as a whole.”
“Even though the district and the borough government are separate entities, we are attached at the hip,” said Ted Parker, Morrisville Borough Council President. “The district has not been receiving what it should from the state.”
The funding issue has further been exacerbated during the Coronavirus pandemic, as distance learning replaced traditional classroom learning. Nearly 600 of the over 800 students in Morrisville School District currently do not have the resources to participate in distance learning. Morrisville School District applied for the Continuity of Education and Equity Grant (CEEG) to help fund the purchase of Chromebooks and hotspots, but the application was denied, likely in part due to the same flaw in calculating the level of need in Morrisville described above.
In light of this discrepancy, Sen. Santarsiero, Reps. Warren and Galloway, and representatives from Morrisville Borough and Morrisville School District joined together in requesting assistance from the Office of the Governor, that an amount equivalent to what the district would have received under the CEEG program be granted to the school district as soon as possible so that Morrisville can purchase the needed equipment in time to cover the remainder of this school year.
The full text of the letter sent to Governor Wolf is available here.
The full recording of the press conference is available here.