Pennsylvania Moves Toward School Funding Formula

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A majority of states in the US have already established student-based formulas for the distribution of state education funds. Pennsylvania will soon be joining them since the state House and Senate have passed a bill authorizing the change.

For almost 25 years, Pennsylvania has divided most of its education money according to the principle that no districts would ever get less than they did for the previous year.

Tremendous inequities were eventually created because the state did not keep track of real-time enrollment changes, poverty levels, and other issues. The bottom line became that districts that had lost enrollment had not been faced with the accompanying funding decreases, reports Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks.

The new formula will count enrollment trends and is seeking to improve the system by acknowledging that the cost of educating certain students is higher than the cost for other students. The bill was written by a bipartisan commission.

Districts will get a larger share of the funding depending on how many students at a school are living in poverty, how many attend charter schools, and how many are English Language Learners. The formula also adjusts for rural districts that have greater costs for transportation and other factors.

Districts that have local taxpayers who are making more of an effort as compared to their median income will be getting a boost. But legislators plan to apply the formula only to new increases in state aid to education. This year, the state raised the $5.48 billion pot by $200 million.

A year ago, the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission finished an analysis of Pennsylvania's funding process and offered recommendations for changes, reports Evan Grossman for Pennsylvania Watchog.

"The formula created by the Commission provides a predictable and transparent basis for the award of state education funding, offering districts at long last a stable and consistent basis upon which to make critical decisions about the operation of their schools each year," Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners Executive Director Mike Wang said.

But Wang added that getting its funding process in line is not enough to ensure that students get a great education. He noted that now the Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf need to pass reforms that will allow all public school students in Pennsylvania receive a quality education.

The School Reform Commission (SRC) accepted a $2.8 billion budget for the next academic year and that includes a small surplus, but there are substantial spending increases for charter schools and employee pensions. However, the commission did not take action on what would happen to two Aspira, Inc. charter schools. Aspira, Inc. is a North-Philadelphia-based Hispanic nonprofit.

This was the third time the commission passed on voting whether the Aspira schools could continue. It also failed to take action on the renewal of contracts for two Universal Companies charter schools.

Aspira has been riddled with financial, governance, and academic issues. Last week, former City Solicitor Ken Trujillo announced that he had been hired by Aspira to be its oversight counsel and was charged with fixing the organization's operations.

Mensah M. Dean, reporting for the Philadelphia Media Network, writes that the 2016-17 budget has earmarked $121 million more for charter schools and $35 million for employee pension payments.

The Philadelphia school district should receive $56 million more for basic education and special education, $15.2 million from city real estate tax revenue, and $22.2 million more in pension reimbursements.

Most of the district's funding comes from the state, totaling a bit more than $1,5 billion. From local sources, the district gets $1.275 billion, and $12 million will come from federal and other coffers. Philadelphia School District Financial Chief Uri Monson said this year the district should finish the year with a $100 million surplus.

The new budget will allow at least one nurse and one counselor for each school. But Monson says that expenditures are growing twice as fast as revenues are coming into the district. He predicts that by 2019, the district will face a negative fund balance of $137 million and close to $600 million by 2021.

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