As a member of the Kutztown Area School Board in the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s, I learned that local school boards are required to make a lot of important financial decisions without knowing whether or not the legislature will fulfill its responsibilities to appropriately fund public education. If anything that reality has worsened in recent years.
Kutztown, like many rural school districts across our state struggled because it was being equated with wealthier and more commercially developed suburban school districts because the state failed to take into account that much of the land in rural districts is not developable land due to the fact it is being preserved as open space or as farm land through programs like “Clean and Green.” In addition, our district is home to one of our Commonwealth’s universities, Kutztown University, and an internationally recognized migratory bird sanctuary, Hawk Mountain. Both remove hundreds of acres from the local property tax base putting additional pressures on local property owners in the district.
In the Kutztown district, the current haphazard approach to school funding which is subject to legislative whim has created an atmosphere of uncertainty that along with a decreasing student enrollment has led to a slow but steady deterioration in the breadth of the educational experience that the district is able to provide for all of its students and vis-à-vis larger and wealthier districts. In particular, things like technology, family and consumer science, music and library science have been negatively impacted as the board has been forced to create balanced and realistic budgets.
The bipartisan state Basic Education Funding Commission’s (BEFC) proposal of a new school funding formula if permanently adopted and adequately funded would end these inequities and create a fairer basis for school funding among districts throughout the state. Its permanent adoption would be a major win for all of Pennsylvania’s students, wherever they live and would help our state live up to the name “Commonwealth.”
— The Rev. Dennis Ritter, remarks made in capitol at May 2 rally for fair education funding