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School Leaders ‘Ride’ Through State To Fix Funding System

Eleven school directors and former superintendents set off across Pennsylvania Wednesday to educate school administrators about the broken education funding system.

The group, deemed “regional circuit riders,” will spend the next year advocating for better distributed basic education funding. They completed a two-day training Tuesday.

The state will distribute more than $5.5 billion among 500 school districts this fiscal year. Each district will receive the same amount it was awarded last year.  

Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Superintendents Association (PSA), said Pennsylvania hasn’t evolved the formula since 1991.

“Since that time, districts have been held harmless, meaning they got the same amount they got the previous year,” Buckheit said. “Then, whatever the general assembly appropriated in terms of additional dollars, would be driven out through these supplements.”

To fairly distribute the funding, the state needs a “reasonable, equitable and adequate formula,” according to director for the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials Jay Himes.

This idea is what the circuit riders are out to promote.

“We know that the process is broken,” former school director of Haverford school district Larry Feinberg said. “Superintendents, business managers, school board members-we go through our budgeting exercise and then we hold our breath to see what comes out of the state legislature.”

The riders are part of a larger effort to fix the system. In June, a 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission was assembled to focus on the issue. They held their first of four public hearings on Aug. 20.

This effort is necessary because students are starting to notice the effects of a “broken” system, former South Middleton school district superintendent Patricia Sanker said.

“If some students in the state are able to walk into the classroom and have laptops available to them, why can’t all students in the state walk into a classroom and have laptops available to them?” Sanker said.

The riders, who applied for the position, will be paid a $25,000 stipend and travel expenses. The money will come from the riders’ sponsors, including the PSA and William Penn Foundation.