A lot has already been made about the nearly $1 billion the Governor and State Legislature cut from public education two years ago, and their failure to restore the cuts. But the true effects of that budget go well beyond cuts. Because Pennsylvania is one of three states without a funding formula, only $129 million of those cuts have been replaced. This has left school districts to fend for themselves.
Since the Governor and key members of the Legislature signed pledges to DC lobbyists to rebuff any and all tax increases regardless of the wellbeing of the Commonwealth, education funding has been slashed and school districts have been on the hook to raise taxes.
To make up for the $74 million cut from the four suburban counties since 2010, 53 out of 63 districts have raised property taxes. Each county has seen at least 70% of districts raise taxes once, at least 60% raised taxes twice. Every district in Chester County has raised property taxes.
Of course, these tax increases haven’t been enough just to reinstate a public education funding formula; we need a fair funding formula. Quite frankly, the current system is anything but fair. The primary determinate in funding isn’t need but power of representation.
Let’s take, for example, the $14.65 million the legislature gave out in “English Language Learner Supplement” grants. This nearly $15 million was split between the Reading, Lancaster, York City, Lebanon and Allentown School Districts. How they qualified is interesting, given that there were ten districts with a higher number or higher share of ELL students that didn’t see any money from the state.
Philadelphia, Norristown or Upper Darby all have more ELL students than those districts receiving grants. In the last three years (2008-09 through 2010-11) of the old funding formula, Philadelphia, Norristown and Upper Darby combined to receive $116,644,386 for ELL students, which is $116,372,446 more than they’ve received in the three years since.
So how did the money end up where it did? Four out of the five districts that got ELL grants are represented in the PA House and Senate by key members of the majority party.
If ever there was a reason to put into place a fair funding formula this is it. Education in Pennsylvania—specifically in Southeast PA—cannot improve when funding decisions are made on appeasing high-ranking members of one party.
Whether your child’s school is adequately funded each year should not depend on how well your legislator was able to get a piece of the budget pie. Money should go where it is needed, plain and simple. Until that is the law, things will only continue to get worse.