Chester Upland’s school-funding predicament echoes cases in N.J.

Pennsylvania officials have told the Chester Upland School District it will not step in to solve the district’s financial woes. The state has officially refused to advance the district $18 million to keep up with its expenses.

The school board “has failed to adjust to certain economic realities,” state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis wrote in a letter to the board.

As the Chester Upland district is running a $27 million deficit, its administration is arguing with state officials about who’s responsible for the debt and who ultimately will put up the cash to keep its schools running. Pennsylvania ran the school system for many years, only letting go of the reins in 2010.

However, the state has officially said this budget quandary is on the district to figure out.

“It sounds familiar,” according to John Mooney, a New Jersey education writer. “In New Jersey’s case, the courts have stepped in and really kept the pedal down on the state.”

While impoverished Chester in Pennsylvania gets 67 percent of its school budget from the state, Mooney says Camden gets closer to 90 percent and Newark in North Jersey gets 80 percent. These contributions stem from court orders mandating the Garden State step in to help poorer districts.

According to Mooney, New Jersey was the first state in the country to take over one of its school districts: Atlantic City. The court case has not ended tensions between school systems and the state.

“You get a lot of blame game between the two and, unfortunately, it’s often the kids who are left bearing the brunt of this. And now, is there a magic answer if they all of a sudden have all the money they needed?” Mooney said. “That hasn’t necessarily worked either.”

Mooney thinks Gov. Chris Christie’s administration will push back on the New Jersey school funding requirements in the coming year.

Chester Upland says it will run out of money to pay its bills in January.

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