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Politics & Government

Could the Next State Budget Include a New Funding Formula for PA Schools?

For as long as property taxes have been used to locally funded schools, there has been a debate over fairness and it might come to head this year in Pennsylvania.

State Senator Matt Smith (D – Allegheny) is hopeful the 2015-16 budget will incorporate a funding formula for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.

He is a member of the Basic Education Funding Commission, which is tasked with crafting the formula.  Created in June, the 15-member commission has about six months to go until it must submit a proposal to the legislature.

The commission has held several public hearings throughout the state and has heard from superintendents, parents, and officials from other states with formulas.

“This isn’t anything definite by any means, but I’m very hopeful that we can incorporate our work into governor elect (Tom) Wolf’s budget proposal in March, and we have to do the budget by the end of June,” Smith said. “So I think we should try as hard as possible to come to a consensus, so it’s part of the new governor’s budget.”

Smith said there are a lot of factors to consider including the fact that no two school districts are the same.

“We have to make sure that we’re analyzing what is essentially the school district’s current situation as it relates to growth, as it relates to property tax base that they have, as it relates to their poverty rate,” Smith said.

He hosted a public hearing in Allegheny County in October focusing on the issue of schools with growing student populations.

“One of the concerns I have about not having a clear formula, which is the case right now, is that high growth school districts - so school districts that have a very sharp growth in student population - are not receiving funding that really addresses the sharp increases in student population that they are experiencing,” Smith said.

Smith said with the current arrangement, school districts cannot receive less funding than they did the prior year, but that builds inequities into the system for schools that have a growing population.

He said the current system creates too much uncertainty.

“It’s very unclear on what, from year to year, a school district will receive,” Smith said. “It’s very unclear on why they’ll receive a certain level of funding.”

The next hearing will be held at the beginning of January in York County.

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