This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Since last July, a Basic Education Funding Commission has been collecting testimony across the state, charged by Harrisburg with developing a rational system for distributing state education aid. Their work is urgently needed.
Not only is current state funding for most Pennsylvania districts inadequate, it is unpredictable and subject to political manipulation. And any system that makes taxpayers in poor districts pay tax rates two or three times higher than in affluent districts and still end up with less revenue is deeply flawed. The system relies far too much on local tax dollars.
But simply engineering a consistent way to divvy up existing state dollars will not resolve the fundamental flaws in Pennsylvania funding. To be successful, the commission must develop a plan that reflects the actual cost to educate children with varieties of needs. The state has set performance standards for schools and students, and hundreds of districts are struggling to meet them because of inadequate resources. In districts with large numbers of low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities, funding needs are much greater. Districts like Philadelphia that operate a dual system of traditional and charter schools also incur higher costs.
An equitable funding system would estimate each district’s costs of adequately educating its children, determine how much can be raised locally through a fair rate of taxation, and provide enough state aid to make up the difference.
Students across the state desperately need such a system. Please join us in urging commission members to act swiftly, in time to move toward a fair and adequate state funding plan for the coming school year.
Philadelphia ranks near the bottom among big cities on the national reading test for 4th graders.