Editorial: The hunt for fair education funding formula goes on
Nov. 15, 2014 – Editorial, Delaware County Daily Times – It is an unfair, unlevel playing field. That’s not especially new. Even outgoing Gov. Tom Corbett, who became the poster boy for an out-of-whack education funding system courtesy of brutal cuts enacted in his first years in office, agrees.
That’s why earlier this year he asked the Legislature to set up a commission to study education funding in the state and come up with recommendations. They’ve been criss-crossing the state talking to residents, teachers, and administrators. Their conclusions are due next year.
William Penn and five other school districts decided not to wait for their recommendations. They went to court this week and slapped the state Department of Education with a lawsuit, claiming the state’s current funding allocations are “unconstitutional.” It’s hard to blame them. Districts such as William Penn, along with Lancaster School District, Panther Valley School District in Carbon County, Greater Johnstown School District, Shenandoah Valley School District in Schuylkill County and the Wilkes-Barre School District have long struggled with the fallout from the state’s education funding debacle.
It is not a coincidence that all these districts encompass economically challenged regions. It’s pretty simple. They simply do not have the tax base to raise the revenue that other districts, with more robust economies, enjoy. Instead they are forced to look to the state to level the playing field. They are still waiting.
Actually a few years back, the state took a big step toward righting this uphill slog after a “costing-out study” came to a less than novel conclusion. Poor districts with struggling economies needed more funding to level the playing field.
But Gov. Corbett abandoned the plan shortly after he took office, dooming kids in William Penn and other districts to the same stacked deck that offers them a lower standard of education simply because of where they live.
The lawsuit, filed by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center, doesn’t spare much in condemning the current funding system.
They were joined by the NAACP, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and seven parents, including Jamella and Bryant Miller of Lansdowne, whose 11-year-old son attends Ardmore Avenue Elementary School.
The suit blasts current funding levels as “irrational, arbitrary and not reasonably calculated,” basically denying all students in the Commonwealth access to an equal education. Instead they accuse the Legislature of adopting a system that instead creates disparities between wealthy and poor districts, in the process violating the state’s equal protection clause.
It’s an argument that’s been made for years, but this time it has some “teeth,” in the form of that abandoned 2006 costing-out study. That ground-shaking study concluded what many already suspected — 95 percent of school districts needed additional funding, ,as much as $4.4 billion, to level the playing field and enable students to meet state standardized testing thresholds.
Of course the funding crisis was most acute in poor districts, where students in less well off regions were doomed to a substandard education. Of course, officials at the state Department of Education defend the current funding, saying basic education subsidies have never been higher.
Which belies why that commission is currently traveling the state looking for a better formula. We urge them not to waste a second. For starters, they can reinstitute the formula suggested under the costing-out study. And if they dawdle, we hope the courts will quickly remind them that every kid in Pennsylvania — regardless of their ZIP code — deserves an equal education.
That’s something they can’t say now. And it’s something they haven’t been able to say for far too long.