Pennsylvania did a good thing when it adopted the bi-partisan Basic Education Funding Commission’s (BEFC’s) fair funding formula for sending new state funding to school districts. It is long past time that the era of backroom deals that delivered new funding to schools represented by politically powerful members of the legislature has ended.
However, state lawmakers should not congratulate themselves yet for fixing PA’s broken, inadequate and inequitable funding system. Simply adopting a formula will not fix Pennsylvania’s broken, inadequate, and inequitable school funding system any more than buying a watering can and leaving it empty will water a garden. Just as a watering can needs to be filled with water in order to nourish plants in a garden, the fair funding formula must have money flowing through it in order to support children’s educational opportunities in public schools.
A recent report by the Public Interest Law Center asked the critical question that state lawmakers chose not to ask when they created the fair funding formula: how much actual state funding must flow through the formula in order for Pennsylvania schools to be able to properly educate all children to meet state standards?
Using the very same formula that was unanimously supported by state lawmakers and state data available for each school district’s instructional costs, the Public Interest Law Center found that at least $3.2 billion will need to be distributed through the formula in order to for all students to have the resources they need to meet the standards the state legislature has imposed on all public schools.
Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center sums up the critical importance of this new report, “The state constitution requires the legislature to support and maintain a thorough and efficient system of education. Now the legislature knows how much it would cost to improve our schools under its own formula. It is more important than ever that the legislature be held accountable to meet its own funding standards.”
During this budget season we will be watching carefully to see which state lawmakers support significant increases in state funding that will move toward providing the resources necessary for all students to succeed and which don’t. Supporting a fair funding formula was a step in the right direction. Now lawmakers must support what our children really need: a state budget that will provide this necessary funding to ensure all public school students have a chance to get a quality education.