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PA Lawmakers Face New School Funding Recommendations

A year-long effort to take a hard look at the way state funding is distributed among schools has wrapped up with recommendations about how the state should divvy up any increases in education funding.  

A panel of lawmakers and state officials said the new funding formula will be fairer and based on tangible factors like population, poverty and tax base. A district’s wealth would be revisited every few years to adjust for changes. The population of students learning English as a second language would also be taken into account.

Members of the Basic Education Funding Commission called it a historic step toward bringing parity to education funding, which has relied on outmoded data and political calculations. Lawmakers from both parties and members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration lauded the new formula.

“What this committee has produced here today is an outstanding platform (and) blueprint moving forward,” said Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), who chairs the Senate’s education panel. “Obviously, it’s only a recommendation.”

Lawmakers would have to approve the formula -- a tall task, given the complexity of the recommended changes.

“We’re going to have a real challenge,” said Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon).

The co-chairs of the panel said they’re optimistic about how the formula would be received in the House and Senate. But Randy Albright, the governor’s budget secretary, said full implementation could take years, even if the formula is adopted right away.

“I think in fairness, we’re looking at a five- to eight-year time horizon,” Albright said. “Part of that depends on how much we’re willing to commit in new state resources annually.”

He added the administration’s immediate priority isn’t implementing the new formula, but instead seeing an increase in education funding. The governor has proposed allocating roughly $400 million dollars more toward schools in the coming fiscal year.

Commission members said the new formula would not apply to the money school districts already receive, sidestepping the question about school districts that may be over-funded and school districts that receive too little.

Applying the recommended formula only to future increases in education funding eases the path to legislative approval, lawmakers said. Low-income school districts will take longer to “catch up” in state funding, they said.