A Sensible Approach to Funding Schools

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Pennsylvania has an economic, moral and constitutional imperative to ensure that every student has an opportunity to learn in a safe and healthy environment, with access to good curriculum and high standards for educational quality.  The way we fund schools should be based on the costs of sufficiently providing the programs and experiences that students need to meet current academic standards.  It must also use rational fiscal principles and allow us to meet our moral and legal responsibilities.

Pennsylvania’s way of funding schools is badly flawed, causing and compounding problems and creating unfairness to children, communities and taxpayers.  Quite simply, it is inadequate and unfair.

It is time for the legislature to renew its work on the permanent adoption of a sensible approach to funding our public schools: one which takes academic expectations, the costs of programs and services, the individual learning needs of students, and community financial health into account.  A funding formula must be predictable, accurate (use updated data) and provide accountability and transparency mechanisms; it must address issues of equity and the fact that Pennsylvania has a variety of communities in both size and type.  Furthermore, Pennsylvania must address tax unfairness and reduce the over-reliance on property taxes which pressures and harms community health and economic development.  Pennsylvania provides far less state support (36%) than the national average (50%) or any of our surrounding states, placing our economic competitiveness in jeopardy.

Pennsylvania must adopt and implement a schedule to provide adequate financial support and allocate that funding through formulas. 

For the 2013-14 budget year, a broad coalition of organizations, school stakeholders, education professionals, parents and community members are calling on the state legislature to:

– Reinstate $270 million in funding to K-12 education in this year’s budget.

– Restore the nearly $1 billion in state funding level cuts (made in each of the last two years) over a three year timetable, getting PA back on track to supporting schools based on the level needed to meet state academic standards.

– Provide cost of living increases for special education and career-technical education; increases to the contingency fund should be provided with new funds, not taken from existing support.

– Adopt a formula based strategy for allocating dollars, working toward a permanent, rational funding formula. Formulas must account for the number of students, include weights for the additional costs for educating students with special needs (including students in poverty, gifted students and English language learners), and provide sustainable and predictable funding for districts.

– Begin to address formula and funding mechanism flaws in the way that charter schools are funded; a good formula will set rates appropriately and not pit groups of children against each other.

– Develop a comprehensive plan to guarantee that the students in financially distressed districts have the resources necessary to meet the state’s academic standards.