When it comes to funding public education in the United States, there is no Federal mandate to regulate how states distribute money to school districts. Each state makes its own rules about how to collect revenue and divide it among the school districts.
Pennsylvania’s main method for funding public education is property taxes. This places the burden of financing public schools on the homeowners in each district. The major challenge with this approach is that the amount of money a school district receives for its public schools directly correlates with how much it collects in tax revenue. In districts with lower property values and a limited business tax base, the collected revenue is often inadequate to support even the basics of public education. It then falls to the State to arbitrarily designate money to supplement each school district’s budget.
Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Delaware are the only states that do not have a funding formula for public education. A funding formula provides a clearly defined and objective way for all school districts to receive fair and equitable funding from the State. A funding formula relies on various criteria such as, but not limited to: each district’s pupil count; tax base; cost of living; poverty rate; percentage of students who qualify for special education programs; percentage of students who qualify for programs like free or reduced lunch; and percentage of students who are learning English as a second language.
In recent years, the inequity between wealthier districts and poorer districts in Pennsylvania has become substantial.
In recent years, the inequity between wealthier districts and poorer districts in Pennsylvania has become substantial. Although there have been several attempts to establish a funding formula, broad support across the state has been lacking, particularly from the wealthier districts that reap the benefits of the current system. More than five years have passed since legislators recognized the need for equitable, formula-based funding for “special need students, targeted staff increases, smaller class sizes, full day kindergarten, and professional development.” These were all identified as “high priority strategies” in the 2007 study Costing out the Resources Needed to Meet Pennsylvania’s Public Education Goals.
A Time to Act
Upper Darby School District is at a crossroads. We are one of the largest school districts in Pennsylvania, but the funding we receive from the State is disproportionate to the number of students we serve and the many students who have needs that exceed what a basic education curriculum can provide. Raising property taxes and cutting educational programs cannot be the long-term solution to our ongoing budget crisis.
The fact that senior legislators like State Representative Nick Micozzie (Majority Transportation Chairperson) and State Senator Ted Erickson (Majority Policy Committee Chairperson) are leaving office at the same time compounds this problem. In the past, these legislators were able to secure extra allotments that have helped keep our District from becoming financially distressed and taken over by the State. In the coming years, we may not be able to rely on this type of financial support. For details about the impact of Representative Nick Micozzie’s efforts to support public education, click here.
As taxpayers, we need to convince our politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, to support the creation of a funding formula now. A funding formula is the only way to ensure that all school districts in Pennsylvania can equitably provide a free and appropriate public education for all students. Given that 2014 is an election year, now is the time to contact your representatives to voice your support for the development of a fair funding formula.
If you are ready to tell your elected representatives that Pennsylvania needs to adopt a funding formula now, please consider doing the following:
- Clicking FairFundingLetter2015.pdf, printing out the letter, and sending it to your local and state representatives. To write your own letter based on our version, visit our “write” page.
- Calling your local and state representatives to voice your support for the creation of a funding formula. For the address of your legislator, please consult: findyourlegislator.
- Encouraging your friends and family who live in Pennsylvania to contact their local representatives about this issue. Elected officials across the state need to hear from their constituents that a funding formula for education MUST be a priority for all Pennsylvania’s students.