Any government funding system based on nearly 30-year-old data will likely generate issues.
Gov. Tom Wolf this week said that is the case with most current education funding, which is still based on enrollment data from 1992.
The state’s system for funding schools does not consider changes in student counts or current school district costs, he said during a gathering with Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol. That forces growing school districts to make up for underfunding from the state by raising property taxes, which in turn, increases the burden on homeowners and businesses.
“This unfair school funding system is failing students, teachers and communities, and that’s unacceptable,” Wolf said from the steps of the state Capitol on Tuesday morning. “We need to fix the mistakes of the past and make a comprehensive investment in education funding that actually works.”
In 2016, a legislative commission developed a “fair funding” formula for determining how much each school district gets from the state. But to avoid cutting funding for any school district, the state has been using the formula only for new funds which have been added each year.
As a result, about 11 percent, or $700 million, of state education funding ran through the 2016 formula last year. The remaining 89 percent, or $5.5 billion, is still distributed to school districts based on student enrollment in 1992.
Wolf is now calling for all education funding to be applied using the 2016 formula and adding $1.15 billion into the mix to ensure that no school district loses funding because of the change.
“We have an opportunity here to bring education funding into the 21st century, where it belongs,” Wolf said on Tuesday. “To do that, we need to run all current state basic education funding through the fair funding formula, and we need to make sure that no school district loses a single dollar in state funding because of this adjustment.”
State Sen. Vince Hughes, D-Philadelphia, the Democratic chair of the Senate appropriations committee said, “This is an unprecedented moment,” in reference to the governor’s proposal.
Indeed, it may be. Many aspects of our lives, business and economy are resetting this summer as the world emerges from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It does seem to be a good time to re-evaluate, reset and move forward.
Educational funding is too important to be anchored in the past. State lawmakers should take the governor up on his invitation, working together to find the best ways to bring education funding “into the 21st century.”
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.