Pennsylvania Nears Funding Formula For Public Schools

May 26, 2016

The governor is expected to sign a bill that would establish an education funding formula for the state's public schools.
Credit Yoshimitsu Kurooka / flickr

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign a bill that would establish an education funding formula for the state's public schools.

Pennsylvania is one of just three states without funding formulas. North Carolina and Delaware are the other two, according to the Education Law Center.

The Pennsylvania House voted Wednesday 188-3 to approve HB 1552 to permanently enact the Basic Education Funding formula. The Senate last week overwhelmingly approved the legislation that according to Patrick Dowd, executive director at Allies for Children, “removes politics from school funding decisions.”

The formula will include factors such as enrollment, student need and each district's ability to raise revenues from property taxes.

“It’s absolutely essential the state consider how many students are there and what sort of condition they’ve come from," Dowd said. "Are they in poverty or are they English language learners? And to really have a much better understanding of the capacity of local school districts to provide the resources for their own kids, and to the extent of how they’re using that capacity.”

For most of the last 25 years, the governor and legislature funded public education based on the practice that school districts would not receive less money than the prior year.    

But the legislation doesn’t scrap that practice. The formula only applies to additional funding above the previous budget’s appropriation for basic education.

“That’s why advocates are continuing to push for money to go through the formula, because obviously the formula is only as good as it is used,” Dowd said. “So this is a solution that will take time to achieve its full effect. So this is a long-term solution.”

According to Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, lawmakers realized that the formula needed to be "additive and not disruptive."

"To have immediately and swiftly have gone to a formula that didn't build on a base of funding that we were already getting would have been very disruptive to schools and therefore to kids and families," Harris said.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding, a coalition of 50 education advocacy organizations, is urging the governor and legislature to increase appropriations by $400 million annually for eight years, “to get the level of funding from the state closer to adequate funding for all school districts in Pennsylvania.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the amount each of the 500 school districts spends per student varies from a low of $9,514 in the Juniata County School District to $23,500 in the Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County.

Dowd called passage of the legislation an “exciting” first step. 

“This is not the perfect formula, but it is a formula and it is a start," Dowd said. "It will be evaluated five years hence, and it will give the commonwealth and legislators particularly an opportunity to improve it at that point."