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School Funding News Story

June 2, 2014

More than 50 organizations across Pennsylvania are joining forces and campaigning for a new Basic Education Funding (BEF) formula. Recently, Allies for Children committed to the cause and helped the coalition establish its mission and guiding principles. The goal is to ensure that Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an adequate and equitable system of funding by 2016.

Currently, Pennsylvania spends $5.5 billion through Basic Education Funding (BEF), which is a single line item in the state budget. The money is distributed to 500 school districts statewide. This amount does not include grants, which are not always guaranteed but often used for a school’s necessities. The distribution of BEF does not accurately account for the cost of providing adequate education services that enable every child to meet state academic standards. For example, the BEF does not take into consideration the number of children in a district, the number of English Language Learners or the level of poverty among the student body. Additionally, the current formula doesn’t factor in the capacity of districts to provide the revenue required to fund a school system. Instead, BEF is distributed according to the concept of “hold harmless,” which essentially means school districts receive the amount of funding they received in the prior year regardless of what happened to the student population.

Currently, local education funding is above the national average yet state and federal funding fall below. In fact, when it comes to receiving state funding, Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom ten states nationwide and depends on revenue, such as property taxes, to account for more than half of its education budget.

Change School Funding Formula

Allies for Children believes the BEF must be adequately distributed. The Senate approved legislation that could create a bi-partisan Commission to examine the BEF and recommend reforms to the way revenue is collected and distributed to school districts in Pennsylvania. Now, the bill is awaiting Governor Tom Corbett’s signature. The commission would be tasked with developing a new BEF that identifies specific factors to consider for each school district. Factors could include a school district’s market value/personal income aid ratio, equalized millage rate, geographic price differences, enrollment levels, population density, local support and other factors. The BEF in Pennsylvania has not changed since 1991.

Allies for Children has joined the emerging statewide efforts to advocate for reform to the formula. The coalition’s goal is to ensure that Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an equitable distribution system by 2016. The coalition believes every public school must have the resources necessary to enable every child to meet state academic standards, be prepared for post-secondary success and become productive, knowledgeable and engaged adults.  

The coalition advocates the creation of a BEF formula that adheres to four basic principles:

  • Accuracy is important: The new system must be based on real costs necessary to meet state academic standards and must use accurate, reliable, verifiable and current school district and community data that addresses factors including poverty, English proficiency, school enrollment and other objective measures that impact costs.
  • Students and schools need stability: The new system must be transparent, sustainable, equitable and long-range — and supported with sufficient, stable and broad-based resources. A new basic education funding system is the foundation for educating all children, including children with special needs who require additional resources through the special education allocation.
  • Responsibility is shared: The new system must operate based on shared fiscal responsibility among the state, the local community, individuals and commercial taxpayers and recognize the differing levels of local funding available as well as the relationship between adequate financial support and student outcomes.
  • Accountability is required: The new system must include strong accountability standards to ensure school districts invest efficiently and effectively to boost student achievement and help ensure post-secondary success. These standards also should allow or encourage districts to pursue and sustain operational cost-saving and cost-sharing options that are consistent with ongoing efforts to foster student achievement and success.

Over the next two years, the coalition will advocate for every public school to have the resources necessary for every child to meet state academic standards, be prepare for postsecondary success, and become productive, educated and engaged adults.