Group: Education funding flawed

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania will spend nearly $5.5 billion on subsidies to school districts this year, but an education reform group said in a new report that the distribution of those funds is out of whack.

The Education Law Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that advocates for more equitable education funding, published a report last week calling for the restoration of a state-level educational funding formula along the lines of the one discontinued by the Corbett administration. The group said Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not use a formula to determine basic education funding.

The new report calls for Pennsylvania to adopt an education funding formula that reflects accuracy, fairness and transparency and takes into account student enrollment totals.

“In other words, is the right amount of money going to the right place – and can legislators and the public see it? In Pennsylvania, the current answer is no,” said Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the Education Law Center.

Across all districts, 53 percent of education spending in Pennsylvania comes from local funding sources, while the state picks up the tab for 36 percent and the federal government kicks in 11 percent.

But there is significant variance among districts, thanks in part to a decades-old state provision known as “hold harmless” that makes it difficult for the state to shift dollars into districts with expanding populations from districts where student enrollment is shrinking.

The result is that high-growth areas have become more dependent on property taxes while low-growth areas have received more dollars per student from the state.

In this year’s budget, Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a $90 million increase in funding for the basic education subsidy that forms the backbone of state support to school districts.

The new dollars will be distributed based on a formula that takes into account new enrollment and the poverty level of districts.

However, the vast majority of the state’s education spending remains locked into the hold harmless provisions, which would require legislation to change, said Tim Eller, spokesman for the Department of Education.

“Every year that money is based on a formula that guarantees a district will get at least as much as it did the year before,” Eller said.