The Basic Education Funding Commission’s released a proposed school funding formula that strongly aligns with the research that finds that educating low-income children and those who don’t speak English requires additional investment. It may not sound like a radical notion, but it’s not where some members of the Commission started out when the Commission’s deliberations began a year ago.
To ensure sufficient investment in school districts, new state funds would be aimed at meeting the needs of students by adjusting district student counts to account for at-risk students. For details click here.
To address the wide disparity of local tax effort to fund schools, the proposed formula also calibrates new state funds to recognize reasonable local effort and incentivize communities to appropriately impose taxes to meet the local share of school funding.
The fact that Republican and Democratic leaders reached agreement and came to the right conclusion is evidence that the thousands of school advocates and experts who testified and advocated for a fair funding formula had an enormous impact and that the newly formed Campaign for Fair Education Funding is making a difference.
That’s the good news. Assuming the legislature adopts this formula, it must still make two big decisions:
The First Big Question: Will the legislature help restore the cuts made in 2010 before rolling out the formula or will they enact the formula immediately ignoring the cuts that so disproportionately impact the very districts that the Commission’s own research found needed the most state aid?
When the state reduced direct state aid to school districts in 2010, low-income students on average lost 50 percent more in state funding than higher income students: $615 in spending reductions for low-income students compared to $401 per higher income student according to the Public Interest Law Center of Pennsylvania.
For this reason, employing the new formula without first filling the hole made by the 2010 cuts puts at-risk students further behind their peers. Some members of the legislature and the Governor agree that a significant portion of the cuts need to be restored, especially if a new formula is being applied only to the annual increment of new funds rather than the full $5.7 billion in state basic education funding.
This decision has big implications for low-income districts in the southeastern region of the state. Assuming a $400 million increase next year, if the cuts are partially restored, the poorest school districts in the southeast will receive $161 million in new state funds. If the formula is employed, the total state aid to those districts will be $73 million
The Second Big Question: Will the Legislature put sufficient funds on the table so that the goals of the formula can be achieved?
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding estimates that an additional $3.6 billion in new state funds rolled out over a six-to-eight-year period would be sufficient to ensure every district has the resources needed to help students succeed. The Governor stated that he hopes to increase state funds by $2 billion over the next four years. Meanwhile House and Senate majority party leaders have been silent on the level of new state aid they would support or think is necessary. That’s why it’s so important that education advocates have a large and continuous presence in the capitol until a budget agreement is reached.