— With the state on track to lose a staggering $5.3 billion in revenue from the opioid crisis, educators and parents are taking steps to prevent it.
They are asking legislators to increase funding for the state-funded teacher’s retirement system, expand teacher pay, allow parents to send their children to private school and expand the school day.
And they’re also asking lawmakers to create a new state aid program to help struggling students.
But some have questioned whether the state has enough money to fund those programs.
“It’s going to be very difficult for us to raise any money for these programs, so that’s the challenge,” said Lisa Estrada, president of the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association, a union representing about 4,000 teachers.
“We’re not able to provide them with any assistance.”
The state is currently running out of money, leaving many parents and educators with limited options.
With less than $1 billion in available funds, some educators are considering transferring their students to private schools, hoping the money will be available sooner.
In the meantime, many families are struggling to make ends meet.
“This is the first time we’ve had this kind of crisis, and this is a lot of money,” said Michael Smith, whose 11-year-old daughter was transferred from a public school to a private one.
Smith said his daughter went to private for about three months, but he’s concerned about the future of her school.
“She’s not going to get the support she needs, and it’s a real concern,” Smith said.
“There’s no reason why she should go to a public system.”
The crisis is not just affecting families who are trying to survive financially.
Schools in some rural areas are also struggling, and some schools are closing.
Many are not equipped to handle the additional students.
One middle school in Lancaster County, where the majority of public schools are located, is closing after two years of operation.
That’s because it’s too difficult to educate more students and because its teachers are not well-trained and have limited classroom time, said Laura Miller, the district’s director of operations.
Miller said the district has also been hit hard by a recent recession and that it had to cut services to stay afloat.
The district also has a $8.7 million budget shortfall, which has put extra stress on staff and students.
Miller also said the state is cutting funding for a few programs, including the Teacher Retirement System.
The state’s teachers are also grappling with the cost of caring for more students, who are often homeless.
“In our community, it’s really hard,” said Emily Kincaid, whose son is a teacher in Lancaster.
Kincad, who is also a nurse, said that her son works full time in a warehouse and she’s also working part-time at home to support him.
“I feel like I’m a burden to him,” she said.
Many parents and teachers are frustrated with the lack of state assistance.
“What we have to do is ask the legislature to provide us with more money,” Estradas said.
In March, the Pennsylvania Legislature agreed to increase the state aid for the teacher retirement system from $2.5 billion to $3.5 million per school year.
But a proposal to increase teacher pay and teacher pay for other employees, including administrators and school administrators, failed to make it out of committee.
The proposal would have provided about $2 billion more per school for the teachers retirement system.
Estrados and others say the state should increase funding in the Teacher Assistants Act, which would have allowed the state to provide $1.6 billion more annually for the retirement system for the next five years.
The governor, who has not released his proposal, has also said he’s considering a plan to increase aid for teacher education.
The teacher retirement fund is used to pay pensions and salaries for teachers.
But funding is a key source of funding for education in Pennsylvania, which relies on the federal government for more than half of its spending.
“For the state, education is a huge source of revenue,” said Laura K. Martin, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies education.
She said the current system could help schools and families if lawmakers had a more aggressive plan to address the crisis.
“Teachers are already working hard and are very stressed out,” Martin said.
For some parents, the crisis is even making them wonder if they should send their kids to private schooling.
“The thought of sending my child to private because I know I can’t do the job makes me nervous,” said Michelle D’Angelo, whose two sons, ages 5 and 8, attend a private school.
D’angelo said she’s worried about her children’s education and she hopes lawmakers will provide more money to help them.
“They need help,” she added.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association said the public education funding situation is dire.
It called on lawmakers to expand funding for