A bipartisan panel of state lawmakers and advisers to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has issued unanimous approval to a new formula that would help the 500 school districts in the state gain additional funding.
The legislature has yet to approve the formula, and it has yet to be decided when to begin using the formula or how much money to put through it. It would not automatically fix the inequities in place in the current system in use in the state, which distributes almost $6 billion for classrooms and administration.
The formula is, however, being promoted as a way to create a fair, predictable way to distribute school aid to Pennsylvania's schools.
Wolf stands in support of the proposal, saying it is a "really strong statement" that both parties came to an agreement on it. In addition, education and school groups including the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Education Voters of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children also expressed their approval.
The vote came one year after Wolf had approved a law creating a commission to fix the current state formula, reports Marc Levy for NBC 10.
A first for the state, the formula takes into account not only the number of low-income students in a district, but also the number of students who live at the lowest level of poverty — those below the federal poverty line. In addition, it looks at current enrollment in the district and handles complaints coming from growing school districts.
Also taken into account are the costs associated with charter schools in a district, geographic size and the financial ability to fund schools with local taxes.
However, members of the commission warned that the creation of such a new formula did not guarantee that inequities would be wiped out of the system.
"Where we are today didn't happen overnight," said Rep. Michael Sturla, D-Lancaster. "We have the most desperate funding for education of any state in the nation right now and the fix won't happen overnight either."
One feature from the system that is currently used in the state that was kept in place by the commission within the new formula is referred to as "hold harmless." The feature ensures that each district in the state receives additional funding when the state increases the amount of annual aid it can distribute. School groups argue that it causes additional funding to go to less deserving districts, as it is given out regardless of changes in wealth or enrollment, leaving the faster growing districts and the poorer ones behind.
However, the commission maintains that it would be almost impossible to remove the feature. It reports that after being in use for 20 years, removing it would mean 320 school districts in the state would receive $1 billion less.