Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders this week agreed on a “framework” for a state budget with hopes for a full spending plan by Thanksgiving. The announcement comes nearly five months after the 2015-16 year began.
According to Senate minority leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), the budget is expected to include about $5.9 billion for basic education funding for public school districts, a $200 million increase from this past year.
But how to distribute that money equitably so that all students have an opportunity for a quality education is a question that lingers before the legislature.
After more than a year of public hearings and research, the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission issued its recommendations in June. The funding formula would take into account several factors, including student enrollment, poverty rate, the number of English language learners in the districts, charter school enrollment and the capacity of the district to generate local tax revenues.
The Senate Education Commission quickly approved Senate Bill 910 implementing those suggestions, but the bill has lingered in the Appropriations Committee during the budget stalemate.
On average, the state provides 36 percent of districts' total budgets, but some districts are much more dependent on state dollars than others. According to the state Department of Education, that ranges from 70 percent for Bethlehem Center School District in Washington County to just 11.9 percent for Upper St. Clair in Allegheny County.
The amount each of the 500 school districts spends per student also varies drastically from a low of $9,514 in the Juniata County School District to $23,500 in Lower Merion School District in Montgomery County.
A panel of experts joined guests Nov. 9 at 90.5 WESA's South Side studio for a Life of Learning community forum to discuss how leaders can best allocate resources to make for a more equitable process.
Panelists included State Senator Jay Costa, member of the Basic Education Funding Commission; Ron Cowell, President of the Education Policy and Leadership Center; Linda Croushore, Executive Director of the Consortium for Public Education; and Eric Montarti, Senior Policy Analyst for the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy; and Linda Lane, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools. 90.5 WESA’s Larkin Page-Jacobs was the moderator.