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Bipartisan panel calls for a new formula to divvy up Pa. education aid

Photo: Kevin McCorry | WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A bipartisan Pennsylvania commission unanimously recommended a new school funding formula Thursday that would account for several student-weighted factors including poverty.

The proposed formula — which would affect only new spending — calls for Pennsylvania to provide districts with predictable, student-weighted funding that accounts for enrollment changes, poverty, English as a second language learners, and enrollment in charter schools.

The proposed formula would also account for a district’s ability to raise funds locally — keeping in mind a locality’s median household income and how much it taxes property already.

The commission also calls for a formula that accounts for the fact that districts serving large, sparsely populated rural areas require additional funding because of logistical issues.

Philadelphia school officials lauded the commission’s report.

"The Commission took on a serious challenge, engaged in thoughtful fact-finding and discussion, and emerged with a formula that is good for the future of education in Philadelphia and across the state," said Superintendent William Hite in an official statement. "We are immensely grateful for their efforts."

Pennsylvania is one of three states in the nation without a weighted student education formula. The U.S. Department of Education says that Pennsylvania has the largest gap in funding between rich and poor school districts.

"I’m really surprised that the way we fund schools hasn’t ended up in a court case," said State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lancaster) at Thursday’s hearing.

To the disappointment of many education advocates, the commission did not recommend how much a district should spend per pupil to ensure that students have the necessary supports to meet standards.

The proposed formula does not suggest how large the pie should be, only how it should be sliced.

"The scope of the school funding commission was far too narrow to solve our school funding crisis," said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children & Youth. "And as a result there’s still a lot of work for the legislature to do."

Commission co-chairman Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery) said adhering to a narrow focus was crucial in order to reach a consensus.

"One thing that I think was key to our success is keeping out any recommendations by a governor or a caucus about what is the right amount of money for educating our youth," he said. "In other words, not tying in budget negotiations with the ability to come to a final product."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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