Fair Funding on the Decline

Last week petitioners in Pennsylvania’s school funding lawsuit filed a brief and affidavits refuting the claim made by the Republican leader of the PA Senate, Joe Scarnati, that the lawsuit was rendered moot because the state adopted a school funding formula in 2016.

The brief details how state funding increases have not kept pace with rising mandated costs, including pension expenses. Because of this, aggregate state funding available to school districts for classroom costs have effectively decreased by $155.3 million since 2013.

In addition, according to an affidavit filed by Mark Price, an economist from the Keystone Research Center, funding gaps between low- and high-wealth districts have significantly increased since the case was filed. Four years ago, a typical high-wealth school district spent $3,058 more per student than a typical low-wealth school district. Today that difference has grown to $3,778/student.

In other words, four years ago, high-wealth districts spent $76,450 more for each classroom of 25 students than low-wealth districts. Today, they spend $94,450 more.

Pennsylvania ranks 47th in the nation in terms of state share of education spending. PA provides just 37% of what it costs to educate students in public K-12 schools; the national average is close to 50%.  Right now, 429 of the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania are not receiving adequate funding from the state. As a result, nearly half of all districts do not have the funding they need to educate students for success. Many  reach an adequate spending level only because local taxpayers are filling the gap left by the state.

The Republican-controlled legislature in Harrisburg has steadfastly refused to increase the state share of school funding in order to provide adequate funding to all school districts.  Instead, Republican leaders in the House and Senate have shifted ever more responsibility for funding schools onto the shoulders of local taxpayers and put excessive pressure on property taxes to fund schools.  They have balked at raising new recurring revenues to provide significant increases in school funding, even rejecting a commonsense tax on gas drillers. And, as we have learned from Senator Scarnati’s claim, Republican legislative leaders believe that PA’s school funding system has been fixed.

In a statement about the court filing, Maura McInerney, Education Law Center legal director, sums up the current state of school funding in PA, “Our affidavits from school districts, parents, and an economist make clear not only that the state has failed to fix a broken funding system, but conditions are actually getting worse, with painful consequences for school children. Petitioner school districts don’t have sufficient funding to hire desperately needed teachers and support staff, repair crumbling facilities, or provide critical educational programming. This problem will not be fixed until additional money is added to the education budget.”

A recent survey of school districts conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Superintendents and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials demonstrates that the harm caused to students by inadequate state funding extends far beyond the school districts that are part of the school funding lawsuit. This survey found that in the next school year:

  • 77 percent of school districts are planning to increase property taxes
  • 39 percent plan to increase class sizes
  • 47 percent do not intend to fill vacant positions as a result of retirements or resignations.
  • 24 percent plan to reduce or eliminate elective classes and 12 percent plan to reduce or eliminate summer school.

We know Pennsylvania’s school funding system is broken. Fair school funding relies on two basic pillars: adequacy, which means that there is enough money to give all children the instruction and support they need to learn, and equity, which means that the system distributes money in a way that provides all children equal access to opportunities. The current system is both inadequate and inequitable.

Those of us who support public education and believe that every child deserves to go to a quality school need to pay attention to who supports Pennsylvania’s public schoolchildren and who doesn’t. As the lawsuit progresses, we need to continue holding individuals in positions of power accountable for fixing Pennsylvania’s broken system.  They must provide adequate funding and enact policies that are sensible and fair to all.

 

Please join us in our fight to reduce the school funding burden on local taxpayers by having the state legislature contribute its fair share of funding to public schools.

Facts You Should Know:

  1. Pennsylvania ranks 47 out of 50 states in the state’s share of paying for public schools. This means more burden is placed on local taxes in PA than in most every other state.
  2. State budgets routinely underfund BASD by more than $22 million a year – according to the bipartisan fair funding formula passed by the legislature in 2015. BASD is one of 138 districts that are underfunded by the state – which means 362 school districts are overfunded every year by the state’s own definition of fair funding.
  3. The state mandates that BASD pay tuition to charter schools. This year they paid $25 million in tuition to charter schools!
  4. Even with the outrageous cost of charter schools, BASD would not have needed a property tax increase for the last several years if the state fulfilled its obligation and provided the missing $22 million to our district.
  5. When state legislators talk about “no new state taxes”, don’t be fooled. They are passing the buck to local property taxpayers.

What can you do?

Call your state legislators and ask them to adequately fund BASD by using the fair funding formula and saving local taxpayers $22 million a year.

TAKE ACTION NOW FOR OUR STUDENTS

State Senator Lisa Boscola – 1 East Broad Street, Suite 120, Bethlehem, PA 18018, (610) 868-8667
State Senator Mario Scavello – 2989 Route 66, Unit 103, Tannersville, PA 18372, (570) 620-4326
Representative Marcia Hahn – 354 West Moorestown Road, Nazareth, PA 18064, (610) 746-2100
Representative Robert Freeman – 215 Northampton Street, Easton, PA 18042, (610) 253-5543
Representative Jeanne McNeill – 1080 Schadt Avenue, Whitehall, PA 18052, (610) 266-1273
Representative Steve Samuelson – 104 East Broad Street, Bethlehem, PA 18018, (610) 867-3890

 

BASD Proud Parents is strictly pro-public education. We are an independent group with no affiliations to the BASD school board or any political parties. Our goals are to help parents stay informed about educational policy discussions and to facilitate ways for any of us who would like the chance to have our voices heard, to get more involved in those policy conversations.