Education Advocates Call for Permanent Funding Formula in Pennsylvania

(Photo: Andrew Pons, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Andrew Pons, Creative Commons)

In Pennsylvania, a group of advocates from across the state gathered at the Capitol to ask lawmakers to boost the state’s funding for public education by $400 million.

The advocates are members of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, and they want the money to be used for what they hope will become a permanent education funding formula that was put into practice for the first time this year. The method assigns dollars based on determinants that include student enrollment and a school’s needs.

Other participants at the rally included school board members and administrators, parents, grandparents, one mayor, and other interested parties. The proponents stated that momentous increases in education funding were necessary to close the chasm between the poorest schools in districts and the wealthiest, which for Pennsylvania is the largest gap in the nation, writes Jan Murphy for PA Media Group.

The additional funding for essential education of $150 million included in this year’s finalized budget was far from adequate for districts to educate all students and meet state standards.

“If the state continues to limit funding increases to the level approved in this year’s budget, infants in their cribs today will be out of high school by the time we achieve a fully funded and fair public school funding system,” said campaign member Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

Former Kutztown School Board member Rev. Dennis Ritter said per student funding amounts do not make a program outstanding, but less than adequate financing certainly damages the growth of an exceptional program.

Secretary of Education John King said on Monday that Pennsylvania is not doing its part when it comes to funding their public education. At the 2016 Education Writers Association national seminar, King said the burden of financing the education of students was not solely the responsibility of the federal government.

He added, writes Daveen Rae Kurutz for The Beaver County Times, that the state’s nine-month budget deadlock caused Beaver County schools to acquire loans to pay their teachers and staff and to pay bills.

Last year the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission suggested the state change the funding formula that it uses to fund its 500 districts. The commission recommended basing school financing on local tax rates, wealth, geographic placement, and enrollment, along with other elements.

The funding formula that has begun to be used should stay in place, advocates say, because it sends more money to rural and low-income districts, reports Ben Allen of WITF Public Radio.

When factors such as poverty level, students who are English Language Learners, and the amount of land in a district that is taxable are being considered, the playing field becomes even.

“It hurts my heart knowing that our children in the urban areas will not, and do not and have not received the same funding that other children have received,” says April Payne, a parent of students in the Pittsburgh Public School District.

Republicans and Democrats alike have supported the funding formula, but lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) have not yet made it permanent.

Advocates say the top priorities for education in Pennsylvania are pre-K, all-day kindergarten, teacher retention, class-size reduction, intervention for students at risk of dropping out, and textbook and equipment purchases, according to Wilford Shamlin III for The Philadelphia Tribune.