ELC Applauds Expanded Access to EI Services for Infants and Toddlers Experiencing Homelessness

Oct. 20, 2014 – For years, ELC has worked for expanded access to Early Intervention services for vulnerable children – including the estimated 6,000 Pennsylvania infants and toddlers (birth to 3 years old) experiencing homelessness.  Many of these children suffer significant trauma and neglect – placing them at greater risk for developmental delays.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, trauma and poverty impact infants in unique yet substantial ways – often leading to lower learning capacities, maladaptive behaviors, and sometimes lifelong physical and mental health problems.   Homelessness itself is a significant risk factor.
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Debate on fair formula for Pa. education has local flavor

Aug. 23, 2014 – By Evan Brandt, The Mercury – The effort to find a fair formula for funding education in Pennsylvania is coming to Montgomery County.

Last Sunday, Gov. Tom Corbett addressed the issue during an unannounced visit to Pottstown, and on Thursday, The Mercury learned that state Rep. Mike Vereb, R-150th Dist., who heads up the education funding formula commission, intends to hold one of the meetings somewhere in the Perkiomen Valley School District.

The Basic Education Funding Commission held its second meeting Wednesday in Harrisburg and Vereb says he wants to meet in different parts of the state to be sure regional issues are included in the discussion.

The next meeting will be in the Lehigh Valley, followed by one in the Perkiomen Valley and one in Philadelphia, he said.

Having organized itself at its first meting last month, the commission — which is charged with making a recommendation for an educational funding formula by next June — got down to business last week.

“We’re starting to get into the meat and potatoes,” Vereb told The Mercury.

It’s a meal made of data — and quite a bit of it — Vereb said.

According to published reports, Wednesday’s meeting included a quick appetizer of debate on the “hold harmless provision;” a helping of history from the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, who outlined the different formulas Pennsylvania has used over the years; a side dish of the factors that go into determining how much each district should get; and a basket of how a district’s “wealth” should be determined and even a desert of asking whether whether funding should follow the teacher instead of the student.

“Yesterday was all a bit overwhelming, there’s a lot of information to absorb,” Vereb said.

“How do we look at it?” Vereb said of education funding. “Do we look at it on a per-student basis; on a per-classroom basis? on a per-school-district basis?”

Corbett is on the same page.

Standing in Riverfront Park on the banks of the Schuylkill River, Sunday, Corbett boiled the question down to an even more basic point.

“What is fair funding is the question,” Corbett told The Mercury. “What’s the formula and how do you do it?” he asked, pointing to the same questions Vereb asked.

“Remember, a school district has its own money, but the school districts are the ones who negotiate contracts with all the unions, the state isn’t there for that,” Corbett said.

“So you have to be careful when you talk fair-funding formula, because if a school district negotiates a generous contract, are they going to be looking to the state for more money than what the ‘fair funding formula’ is?” Corbett asked. “And that’s kind of what I see as part of the problem over the years.”

There are other problems certainly.

Vereb noted that the “hold harmless” provision — which guarantees a district will not receive less state funding than it did the year before, even if its enrollment is shrinking — may be harming “growing districts like Spring-Ford, Perkiomen Valley and even Methacton which aren’t getting increases to match their larger student populations.”

But that provision won’t go quietly.

Clarion County Republican Donna Oberlander, R-63rd Dist., who is also a member of the commission, announced she would vote against any formula that removes that provision on which the rural school districts she represents depend. She said her opinion is shared by “a large contingent” of the House Republican Caucus, according to a report by Capitol Wire.

But Vereb warned against that kind of parochial thinking.

Again echoing Corbett, Vereb said “we want to make sure the people on the commission are geared toward the best solution for everyone and not just looking out for their own districts.”

Corbett also warned against that tendency among legislators.

“Each legislator, the first thing they look at is the funding for their schools and see how their schools are going to be affected when they’re looking at how they’re going to vote on budgets,” he told The Mercury.

“We’ve got to end up with a result that can get 102-26 and one; 102 votes in the House, 26 votes in the senate and the governor’s signature,” Vereb said.

“If we’re really going to fix this, we’re going to have to look at everything, and what can work for everyone and what can get adopted,” Vereb said.

One path toward that goal could be to look at what other states got adopted, something Vereb pledged the commission will do.

“We want to look at what other states do sure, what works, what doesn’t,” said Vereb. “We’re not operating in a vacuum here.”

Luckily for the commission, that path has a map — a report issued last February by the Education Law Center — that looks at what factors other states considering in their education and how they compare to Pennsylvania’s practices.

The comparison isn’t pretty.

The national average for state education funding is 44 percent, whereas Pennsylvania currently provides only 35.8 percent.

“Only nine states contribute a lower percentage of state education than Pennsylvania,” the report’s authors wrote.

It also notes that Pennsylvania’s previous funding formula — based on the costing-out study — “was, in fact, similar to the one many states are now using. The formula measured the number of students in each district, community poverty levels, and local tax effort, allocating relatively more funding to districts that are larger, are poorer and have higher property taxes.”

According to the study, “30 states, including New York and New Jersey,” factor low-income students into their formulas.

In fact the report identifies 10 different factors used in states across the nation.

They are:

• Accurate student count;

• Weighting for low-income students;

• Weighting for students with disabilities;

• Weighting for English language learners;

• Per-student base cost;

• District poverty;

• District cost of living;

• District local tax effort;

• Small district;

• Adequacy target.

Two states — Virginia and Texas — use all those factors in determining state funding levels. Maine uses nine out of 10.

In the Northeast, New York uses eight; Maryland uses eight; New Jersey uses seven.

Even Alabama and Mississippi, which perennially rank at the bottom of the nation in educational achievement, use two and three of the factors, respectively.

Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that uses none.

“I think a lot of people think it’s very easy, you know just come up with a formula” said Corbett. “It if was just a formula, say X amount per student? But a lot of people wouldn’t agree with that as soon as they start looking at the detail.”


Read the full story.

ELC Statement on State Budget: Missed opportunity to address school funding crisis

UPDATED July 22, 2014

Governor Corbett’s 2014-15 state budget does little to address Pennsylvania’s systemic public education funding crisis.

“This budget was a missed opportunity for the legislature and the Governor —  and a loss for public school students,” said Rhonda Brownstein, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “There were several options for our state leaders to not only provide adequate funding to our schools, but to also enact cost-saving measures.”

The General Assembly pursued a fix to the state’s special education funding system that would have addressed the flawed approach to providing funding to students with disabilities in public schools — both charter-operated and district-run. The fix would have more accurately calculated costs and aligned resources to those costs, providing a significant savings to school districts throughout the state and ensuring that children with disabilities receive the services they need. Instead, the whims of political insiders thwarted that effort — resulting in a job half done that does not fix the admitted problem.

The effort to secure a consistent state revenue source for schools was also abandoned, leaving the legislature and Gov. Corbett to fall back on one-time funding schemes and last-minute deals to create a patchwork of public school funding that remains completely disconnected from the cost to provide all students with the necessary resources to meet the state’s academic standards.

“We cannot continue to rely, year after year, on political horse-trading and last-minute budgeting contortions that, ultimately, leave our schools lacking basic resources and leave our communities struggling to make up the difference with local revenues,” said Brownstein. “Our public schools require, and deserve, a thorough and efficient system — an actual system — of education funding as mandated by our state’s constitution.”

Pennsylvania schools face funding, construction challenges

May 12, 2014 – Editorial, Allentown Morning Call – Pennsylvania faces a long-term challenge in public education and economic development. Current policies are defining the haves and have-nots statewide. It’s not good for students, and it’s bad for local economies.

However, the angst being heard in some communities may help to explain the election-year momentum and optimism for changes to public school funding in Harrisburg. With bills moving through the Legislature to address basic education funding and school construction, minds are changing all the way up to the governor’s mansion.

There are two foundational state funding streams that schools depend on — basic education funding for operations and school construction dollars.

Read the full editorial


At symposium, a call for state education funding formula

October 10, 2013 – by Martha Woodall, Inquirer Staff Writer –

If the Pennsylvania Legislature had not scrapped a statewide education-funding formula in 2011 it had approved three years earlier, the Philadelphia School District would have received $360 million more in state aid this year and would not be in a fiscal crisis now, an expert said Wednesday.

Read the full story:


Pa. advocates gear up for education funding push

October 01, 2013 – by Susan Snyder, Inquirer Staff Writer –

Its music program was eliminated, 12 percent of its teaching force laid off, and its junior high sports program was slashed. “Cuts at the state level just kill us,” said Jim Duffy, superintendent of the Fannett-Metal School District, a small system in south-central Pennsylvania.

Read the full story:

PA Enacts Historic Special Education Funding Reforms

June 14, 2013 –  Governor Corbett signed into law today historic legislation to fix Pennsylvania’s broken special education funding and accountability system.

Act 3 establishes a legislative commission to develop — for the first time in the Commonwealth — a funding formula for special education that uses accurate student counts and addresses actual student needs.

Advocates from 40 different organizations throughout Pennsylvania support this legislation, which was nearly adopted in 2012.

“This is historic,” said Rhonda Brownstein, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, one of the lead advocacy groups supporting this legislation. “The commission will outline a much-needed approach for funding special education in Pennsylvania — one that takes into account accurate data and real student needs.”

Rep. Bernie O’Neill and Sen. Pat Browne were lead bill sponsors and will be a part of the commission.

“We want to thank our legislative champions — Representative O’Neill and Senator Browne — for their work on the legislation, and, of course, we want to thank all of our advocates throughout the state for their commitment and dedication to seeing this bill passed,” said Pam Klipa, Special Education & Training Coordinator for The Arc of Pennsylvania.

The Commission established by the legislation will begin work next month and make its recommendations in September. The funding formula established by the Commission would be applied to any new dollars added to the state’s special education line item.

Districts could utilize any new state special education funding to improve programs and supports and other best practices that benefit students with disabilities, such as meeting state and federal performance indicators and providing curricula adaptation, co-teaching, assistive technology, and school-wide positive behavior supports.


The Education Law Center is a non-profit, statewide legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all of Pennsylvania’s children have access to a quality public education.


Brett Schaefer
Education Law Center
Office: 215-238-6970 ext. 334
Mobile: 215-519-6522
[email protected]