Pennsylvania leads the nation in funding inequity for school districts, with a huge gap in per-pupil spending between rich and poor districts. Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, explains here why it is past time for Pennsylvania to adopt the reforms being proposed by Governor Tom Wolf.
Pennsylvania ranks 44th in the nation for state share of school funding, with the commonwealth providing just 38% of K-12 funding; nationally, the norm is close to 50%. When the state is cheap, it puts enormous pressure on communities to fund their schools through property taxes. Wealthy communities can easily raise local dollars to fund their schools. But poor communities struggle to raise the local funding their students need, even when they have among the highest property tax rates in the commonwealth.
And while Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding (BEF) formula provides weighted student funding for districts with higher levels of need, just 11% of education spending is distributed using this formula, shortchanging districts that are the least able to provide students with essential resources.
Governor Wolf’s 2021-2022 budget proposal for education is a recognition that Pennsylvania must do something fundamentally different in order that all students, regardless of where they live, have the resources they need to receive an education that will allow them to thrive and succeed in school today and live productive, fulfilling lives after graduation.
Gov. Wolf’s proposal would increase school funding by $1.4 billion, allocate of all basic education dollars through the state’s formula, and ensure that all 500 districts receive additional funding. Wolf’s is the first serious attempt in Harrisburg to make real the hope that Pennsylvania’s school funding formula would actually close the opportunity gaps that disproportionately harm hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania’s historically underserved students, including many students of color, students living in poverty, students with disabilities, English learners, and others.