This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Education advocates across Pennsylvania are celebrating the fact that the state is about to commit to a new student-weighted formula for distributing state aid.
But not everyone is happy.
One advocacy group says proceeding as planned will continue to shortchange many school districts.
For the last few weeks, Kelly Lewis has been crisscrossing the state, trying to explain to certain school districts just how unfairly they’ve been treated by the state for the last 25 years.
At an Irish bar on the main drag in Wilkes-Barre, he spoke to a smattering of parents and business leaders.
"What happened is, districts that saw population increases, like the Poconos — Pocono Mountain, East Stroudsburg, Stroudsburg, they grew tremendously over the last 25 years — they didn’t get one red cent," he said. "City school districts saw poverty levels go up tremendously; they didn’t get one red cent for an increase in poverty."
Lewis is a former Republican state representative from the Pocono Mountain area who is now chairing an organization called Citizens for Fair School Funding, which has been pushing an advocacy campaign called "Support Equity First."
With the exception of a few years under former Gov. Ed Rendell, the state has not had a systematic formula since 1992 for dividing state education money that actually acknowledges changes in enrollment.
This week, though, a major breakthrough came that was lauded by most advocates.
The General Assembly came to an agreement on a new formula that will count actual enrollment, as well as a number of other factors, including student poverty, local tax effort, district sparsity, and the number of students learning English.
Gov. Wolf says he will sign it.
When Lewis’ group ran the entire pot of state education aid through that formula, it saw in real numbers what many have known for a long time: Not counting those factors has severely impacted many schools.
"That formula, black and white, recognizes that some school districts have been vastly underfunded, and we believe that they should be made whole," he said. "That’s called fairness. That’s called being human. That’s called trying to fix a broken system."