By Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children, a Kidsburgh community partner advocating for policy and practice changes that improve the wellbeing of all children in Allegheny County, especially those with the greatest need.
Pennsylvania has taken an important step towards the creation of an equitable, student-based funding system. After a year of hard work, the Basic Education Funding Commission, a bipartisan group of legislators and members of the Governor’s administration, unanimously voted to recommend a funding formula for the Legislature to consider. The job was daunting, but the Commission achieved consensus on recommendations that move us towards a student-based funding system.
This is something Allies for Children has been fighting for 18 months. Our organization has been an active member of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, which advocates for the creation of a student-based funding system. By that, we mean a system that accurately reflects the cost of educating students to state standards, that is equitable, that shares funding responsibility between state and local governments and that is predictable over time.
In February, the Campaign publicly released its recommendations for a fair funding formula, which includes many of the same elements of the Commission’s recommendations. Both the Campaign and the Commission recommend that a formula:
- Counts students using a multiyear average.
- Weights the count of students for those students living in poverty.
- Weights the count of students for those students who are learning to be proficient in English.
- Weights the count of students to account for stranded costs associated with the operation of charter schools.
- Adjusts for factors related to the operation of districts, such as sparcity and size.
Like the Campaign, the Commission concluded that the Aid Ratio, which has historically been used to determine relative wealth and how much money the state provides to each school district, has been a flawed tool. Fortunately, the Commission recommends a new method of determining local wealth and tax effort.
Unlike the Campaign, the Commission did not make recommendations regarding the level of Basic Education Funding but rather concluded that this was a matter to be taken up by the Legislature as a whole.
The Campaign has developed a formula that includes a per pupil base cost and determines that in order to accurately fund our public education system, the state would need to contribute an additional $3.6 billion for Basic Education Funding.
While the report and unanimous approval marks an important first step, the Campaign still must examine the overall impact of the Commission’s proposal and whether the results align with the Campaign’s principles. We believe a formula must be accompanied by significant new investment. The Campaign also calls on the Legislature and the Governor, in this year’s budget negotiations, to close the remaining gaps created by reductions in funding for public schools to the greatest extent possible.
This article originally appeared here.
Featured photo courtesy of Allies for Children.