Part of the PublicSource series

Failing the Future

In July, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera sat down with PublicSource reporter Mary Niederberger for a wide-ranging interview on school funding issues, the current Commonwealth Court lawsuit that seeks a more equitable education funding formula and possible solutions to narrow disparities between districts across the state. The secretary acknowledged the disparate curriculum, facilities and extracurricular opportunities for students in Pennsylvania. He noted that, in some cases, affluent districts with healthy educational programs sit next to districts where the majority of students live in poverty and have limited access to rigorous courses or technology. Rivera said he wants students in districts with fewer resources to know he is “advocating on behalf of them, their families and their communities.”

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In this video clip, Rivera responds to the fact that he was one of the original plaintiffs in the current Commonwealth Court lawsuit. In November 2014, when the lawsuit was filed, he was serving as the superintendent of The School District of Lancaster. Two months after the case was filed, he was appointed state secretary of education, meaning he technically became a defendant in the case. When Gov. Tom Wolf abandoned all preliminary objections to the lawsuit on behalf of the state administration in January, Rivera was no longer considered a defendant. “In my heart, I’ve always been a strong advocate for equity,” Rivera said.

To create a new funding formula that would provide more money and more equitable funding to schools, Rivera said a new revenue source must be found. He talks about how finding one has become a persistent stumbling block.

Rivera acknowledged the depth of the disparities between school districts and the fact that some wealthy districts are in close proximity to districts experiencing economic hardship. There are some examples of sharing — like the Hopewell School District welcoming Aliquippa students for Advanced Placement classes and Pittsburgh Public Schools accepting 7-12 grade students from Wilkinsburg. Can there be more sharing? Rivera said he sees more districts now “working together to try to cross that line.” But the secretary makes it clear he doesn’t have authority to force it. He does, however, have a pulpit from which to praise districts who help their neighbors and he plans to continue doing so.

Mary Niederberger covers education for PublicSource. She can be reached at 412-515-0064 or mary@publicsource.org.

This project has been made possible with the generous support of The Grable Foundation and the Education Writers Association.