These statistics help to demonstrate how unfair the current system of school funding is, and how it works against those students who need the most support. “Pennsylvania’s lack of a predictable, student weighted funding formula allows state tax dollars to flow through Harrisburg in a largely irrational manner. Districts with more students in poverty, more special education students, and more English learners don’t formulaically receive additional state aid to help cover the added costs of meeting the needs of those students” (https://whyy.org/articles/which-pa-school-districts-get-the-highest-percentage-of-aid-from-the-state/).
While York City students are just as intelligent, talented and capable as any other students in Pennsylvania, in order for these children to learn, grow and achieve success, they need equitably funded schools.
When Pennsylvania adopted a new basic education funding formula, it was a big step toward making sure that Pennsylvania fund its schools equitably. “But the formula only applies to new funding, money above the 2014-15 base amount. So school districts that were severely underfunded for decades are still underfunded, and they will continue to be for decades if we do nothing else” (https://www.ydr.com/story/opinion/columnists/2018/05/31/its-time-pa-address-education-funding/659865002/).
How underfunded are they? Equity First, a group raising awareness of school funding issues in Pennsylvania, looked at what districts would receive if the formulas for basic and special education were applied to all funding proposed for next year.
The organization found that the top five underfunded school districts are:
- York City School District, underfunded by $6,565 per student
- Reading School District, underfunded by $6,520 per student
- Harrisburg City School District, underfunded by $5,225 per student
- Wilkes-Barre Area School District, underfunded by $4,468 per student
- Pottstown School District, underfunded by $4,214 per student (http://supportequityfirst.org/384-2/)
There are legislative proposals in both the Senate and the House that would look to address underfunded districts – either by allocating more of the “new” money to those districts deemed underfunded, or by distributing all basic education funding through the formula. Tom Quigley, R-146, and Tim Hennessey, R-26 have jointly introduced legislation, which has bipartisan support, that would ramp up the delivery of state aid through the fair funding formula by 20 percent each year, reaching full implementation in five years. State Senator, Robert Mensch, R-24, has introduced an identical bill in the state Senate. Moreover, Montgomery County-based State Representative Todd Stephens, R-151, and Philadelphia-based State Representative Martina White, R-170, have introduced a bill calling for the entire state education funding allocation to be distributed through the fair funding formula (http://www.dailylocal.com/article/DL/20180507/NEWS/180509835).
Pennsylvania ranks 47th in state share for education funding in the country.
Under current Governor Tom Wolf, Pennsylvania has steadily increased the state’s commitment to schools. His proposed budget for 2018-2019 includes a $100 million increase for basic education and a $40 million increase for early childhood education programs.
However, currently, property taxes are the main way that the government funds schools in PA.
“If we fund schools the way they should be funded, school districts would have to rely less on local property taxes to provide what students need – so your bills would go down” (https://www.ydr.com/story/opinion/columnists/2018/05/31/its-time-pa-address-education-funding/659865002/).
We will see what comes of these proposals to the school funding formula and how to financially support school districts equitably and without overwhelming the tax payers of Pennsylvania.