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PA education secretary: 'I will advocate'

ERIE, Pa. -- Outside of the Jefferson Educational Society on State Street, about a dozen demonstrators rallied in support of Erie’s Public Schools on Thursday night.

"We're just not getting the dollar for dollar that we're supposed to be getting," said Angela Purchase, who held a sign with a message to Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera: “Mr. Rivera, if not you? Who? Please join us!”

"Please stop being so political and focus on what we really need,” she added.

Inside the lecture hall was a panel discussion on the future of public education with a sold-out crowd of more than 300 people.

"The format here, I think, is really conducive to a civil discussion, and we're excited for that," said Erie School District Superintendent Dr. Jay Badams.

Badams and Rivera were on the panel, which addressed the district’s $10 million deficit and the advantages of community schools, an initiative to connect schools with community resources.

"If you can find a partner that says ‘I can fulfill my core mission and vision, while serving your kids,’ that's the perfect relationship,” said Rivera. “So, our conversation today about community schools is not only a good way to mitigate costs, but even a better way to engage the community and best serve students."

The panelists spoke about the fair-funding formula signed into law last year, which introduces new methods of allocating money based on factors such as the poverty rate, the number of English learners and special needs.

The intent is to make funding more equitable but falls short, according to Badams. He said there is not enough money in the state budget for education; and consequently, the district would continue to accrue debt.

Earlier in the day, Rivera joined Badams and other officials for a tour of Central Tech and Pfeiffer-Burleigh School, one of five community schools.

The visit comes nearly a month after Rivera rejected the district’s financial recovery plan, which requested $31.8 million.

Badams said, "The secretary doesn't have the ability to appropriate funds. He certainly has the ability to advocate for us, and he's assured us that he's doing that. And I take him at his word."

"There are good investments going into our schools, and that is a message that I will absolutely continue to advocate toward the General Assembly and the governor,” said Rivera.

Erie Public Schools is under “financial watch” and must submit a revised financial recovery plan to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

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