Campaign for Fair School Funding Shares Recommendations

HARRISBURG (FEBRUARY 26, 2015) – LAMPa today joined partners in the Campaign for Fair Education Funding to propose a student-driven funding formula for basic education that strategically directs resources to students and school districts with the greatest needs and provides the investment necessary to enable every child to succeed academically, regardless of their address.

“The city’s best and greatest welfare, safety, and strength consist in its having many able, learned, wise, honorable, and well-educated citizens.” So wrote Martin Luther in his appeal to city governments to establish schools. In a move unusual for his day, he taught that schools for all – both those who were wealthy and those who were poor, both boys and girls – were necessary so that the Church would have learned and faithful pastors and the civil community would have wise and good rulers. (ELCA Social Statement on Our Calling in Education, 2007)

Today, although Pennsylvania as a whole has above-average spending and student scores, these positives mask a persistently inequitable system – both in terms of resources and outcomes. Pennsylvania, according to a study funded by the William Penn Foundation and performed by the American Institutes for Research, is consistently among the most regressively funded education systems in the nation— meaning, higher poverty districts have systematically lower revenues per pupil than lower poverty districts. The Commonwealth’s low and declining rate of contribution to school funding has forced an increasing reliance on property taxes – leading to a growing gulf of opportunity and achievement for children between the state’s lower and higher wealth districts.

“Because all are created in God’s image, all have equal worth and dignity and should be treated accordingly. This belief stands behind our strong support for our society’s expectation that all young people have equitable access to high-quality schools.” (Our Calling in Education, 2007)

The proposed formula could boost student outcomes in all parts of the state by helping to close funding shortfalls, improve equity, and ensure accountability and efficiency. Pennsylvania is one of only three states that do not have a funding formula for basic K-12 education.

The campaign’s mission is to ensure that Pennsylvania adopts and maintains an adequate and equitable system of funding public education by 2016.  Every public school must have the resources necessary to enable every child to meet state academic standards, be prepared for post-secondary success, and become productive, knowledgeable, and engaged adults.  

The campaign is an unprecedented coalition of educators, faith-based organizations, children’s advocates and business leaders as well as representatives of charter and public schools in rural, urban and suburban school districts across the commonwealth.

The proposal, based on costs necessary for all students to meet state academic standards and using current, verifiable data, includes a formula driven by several critical student factors, such as the number of students in poverty and the number learning English; and several school district factors, including local tax effort, school district size and charter enrollment.

The formula also guarantees districts a minimum increase in the level of state funding each year, in order to support school districts faced with fixed costs despite reduced student enrollment. The proposed formula calls for approximately $3.6 billion in new state investments in public education – an amount that would be phased in over six to eight years. That equates to approximately $450 million annually in new funding in an eight-year period.

The campaign is hopeful its proposed funding formula will help improve Pennsylvania’s school funding vision for fiscal 2015-16 and beyond.

“Our members agree that more resources are needed for our public schools. But our campaign also is focused on establishing a predictable funding formula that distributes those funds equitably. Right now, we do not have a real system for funding our schools making it impossible for districts to effectively plan,” said Joe Bard, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, a campaign partner.

“Increased funding and a predictable formula are critically important but they must be accompanied by accountability and efficiency. Our campaign is deeply committed to being good stewards of public funds. We are advocating for a system that is transparent and that includes accountability standards to ensure that schools invest efficiently and effectively to boost student achievement,” said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, a Pittsburgh based community alliance for public education, and a campaign partner.

The campaign’s proposed solution to the state’s school funding problem follows the release of a school district survey by two campaign members, the PA Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), which found that Pennsylvania schools have experienced unprecedented reductions in academic programs and school staff over the last few years, with more anticipated for next school year.

The survey found that almost 75 percent of districts reported cutting at least one academic program since 2010-11; and a majority of districts reported at least one round of class size increases since 2010-11. The report also found that state funding hasn’t kept pace with rising costs. “Our current education funding system is broken, and it’s hurting our kids,” said Bishop Dwayne Royster, Executive Director of the faith-based group POWER, a campaign partner. “It’s time we come together around a solution that positions all of our children for success,” added Royster.

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