One of the major issues facing Pennsylvania's policymakers in the ongoing budget debate is how to fairly and fully fund all of the state's schools. Currently, Pennsylvania has one of the largest funding gaps between districts in the country. But a new report from the Basic Education Funding Commission gives recommendations for developing a fair school funding formula, clarifying what factors must be considered in calculating students' diverse needs and highlighting the overall importance of a funding system that ensures schools can meet those needs.
The Commission met with parents, teachers, students and advocates across the state to help them determine what needs to be considered when deciding how to fund schools. Their recommendations take into account both the variety of districts as well as the specific needs of different students. To determine adequate levels of funding for each district, the Commission recommends using student-based factors like the overall number of students, poverty rates, ELL needs, and charter school enrollment. They also include three community-based factors that take into account median household income, the extra resources needed for rural areas with a spread out student population, and the capacity of communities to raise funds through local taxes. Considering all these factors together will help account for differences between rural and urban districts, poorer and wealthier ones, and those with high numbers of students in need of additional supports.
The upcoming budget is a chance for Pennsylvania to re-invest in education, and a fair funding formula is a way to ensure that investment is distributed to the students and schools who need it the most. As the Commission says:
“The lack of a permanent state funding formula for education has provided an unbalanced distribution of state funding to school districts and does not match the needs to educate students in some districts. All of this information the commission received throughout the past year has allowed us to develop a funding structure based on the actual costs involved in providing basic education, including factors that require more than the normal level of funding for a child.”
You can read the full report here.