This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (CFEF), a statewide coalition of 46 organizations seeking predictability and fairness in how Pennsylvania allocates revenue to school districts, has proposed its own version of a formula for basic education funding.
Basic education, at $5.7 billion this year, is the largest chunk of the state’s K-12 funding. Unlike most states, the commonwealth has no formula for distributing it based on actual enrollment and student need. Instead, districts receive money according to the previous year’s allocations and grants that legislators sometimes arrange for individual districts.
This system has proved a headache for school administrators. It has also resulted in what U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the most inequitable education system in the country.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, wealthy districts in Pennsylvania spend on average 33 percent more per student than poorer ones – $12,529 compared to $9,387.
CFEF’s proposed formula would begin by setting the baseline per pupil cost at $7,266. Districts would receive more money according to their numbers of English language learners, homeless and foster care children, and percentages of students living in poverty and deep poverty. Rural districts and those with a high tax effort would also receive additional money.
During an eight-year phase-in, CFEF proposes to maintain the “hold harmless” provision guaranteeing that no district receives less money than it did the year before. After the formula has been phased in, annual adjustments would be based on enrollment changes.
CFEF says this would require an additional $451 million each year in basic education aid. That would raise the basic education total to $9.326 billion after the phase-in period. Gov. Wolf has proposed a $400 million increase in basic education funding for 2015-16, to a total of $6.1 billion.
Last year, the legislature created a Basic Education Funding Commission to research and propose a new funding formula. The commission held its final hearings in February after months of gathering testimony from school and district officials, organizations, and residents. It is expected to publish recommendations by June. At that point, it will be up to the legislature to work toward enactment. Wolf is working with the commission and the legislature and would like to see a new funding formula in place by 2016-17.
Further information on the Campaign for Fair Education Funding can be found at fairfundingpa.org.