News Room

Pa. proposes new school funding formula to help low-income students

June 18, 2015 – by Emma Brown, The Washington Post – A Pennsylvania state commission has proposed a funding formula that would send more tax dollars to school districts that serve high numbers of needy children, including those who are poor or who are learning English as a second language.

Advocates welcomed the commission’s unanimous recommendations as a first step toward fixing Pennsylvania’s school funding system, which is the most inequitable in the nation, according to federal data.

The state’s poorest school districts get one-third fewer state and local tax dollars, per pupil, than the richest.

“The commission has recognized the significant and unique challenges facing schools that serve our most vulnerable learners,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center-Pennsylvania, which has sued the state over what it says is inadequate and unfair school funding.

There is still a long road before the proposal translates into on-the-ground change. It must be approved by the Republican-majority state legislature and then signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf (D). Wolf, who campaigned on improving school funding, said Thursday that he supports the panel’s recommendations.

A year ago, then-Gov. Tom Corbett (R) signed a law that created the Basic Education Funding Commission and tasked it with creating a fair funding system. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states that do not currently have a school funding formula.

The commission, made up of state legislators and members of Wolf’s administration, held 15 public hearings before releasing its recommendations Thursday. Under its proposals, the state would adjust its aid to school districts based on:

  • The number of students they serve
  • Charter school enrollment
  • Percent of students living below the poverty line, the percentage living below 185 percent of the poverty line, and the percentage living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty
  • Number of students with limited English proficiency

The formula makes further adjustments based on the school district’s median income and property tax rate as well as its “sparsity index,” meant to ensure fair funding for small rural school districts.

Advocates said that the funding formula isn’t enough to help the state’s worst-off schools: A new funding formula must be accompanied by a commitment to invest significantly more in public education, they said.

Wolf has proposed to do that by overhauling the state’s taxes and introducing a new severance tax on the natural gas industry. But the governor’s proposals have encountered resistance in the legislature.