This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
For years in Pennsylvania, local districts have been required to shoulder a greater share of education spending than the state, whose relative contribution remains among the lowest of any state in the country.
It wasn’t always so.
In 1966, the legislature amended the Public School Code to specify that the state share of education spending would never fall below 50 percent. Until 1977, it kept to that requirement, reaching a peak of 55 percent.
That year, however, during an economic downswing, the commitment began to wane. In 1983, the legislature officially ended its 50 percent commitment. And in 1991, it abandoned altogether the aid formula that distributed state funds to districts based on poverty levels, enrollment, local taxing capacity and other factors. For the next 17 years, the rules for distributing state education aid changed from year to year. And the Commonwealth’s total contribution dipped as low as 36 percent, putting the burden on localities.
According to a recent U.S. Census report, that’s where the state’s share stood in 2007-08. Only three states – Nebraska, South Dakota, and Illinois – fund a smaller percentage of the costs for public education than Pennsylvania. Those are the most recent comparisons available – the year before Pennsylvania’s new adequacy formula.
In adopting the formula based on the costing-out study, Gov. Rendell set a goal of increasing the state share to 44 percent by 2014.