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School funding formula leaves students short-changed

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

— Malcolm X

By The Editorial Board

The way Pennsylvania schools are funded has been deemed unconstitutional by a Philadelphia court.

Where do we go from here to make sure students aren’t being short-changed by school funding?

If education is our passport to the future as Malcolm X said, then for too long too many of our kids have been denied transport and the basic opportunities afforded their fellow travelers.

They’re stuck in the same cycles that trapped their parents in poverty and it’s hard to argue with them that at least in the commonwealth, they seem to have been intentionally left behind and woefully unprepared.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, 1.7 million children are currently enrolled in publicly-funded schools. The ruling may face an appeal, which would mean more inaction on an issue directly impacting all of them.

According to Fund Our Schools PA, low-income districts annually have $4,800 less to spend on each student than wealthier ones.

As we’ve previously reported, Pennsylvania ranks 49th and 50th in providing average opportunities to Black and Hispanic students according to the group Research for Action.

How did we get here?

In 1992, a provision called “hold harmless” in Pennsylvania funding allocation locked in budgets for certain school districts, with increases for inflation, without taking into account student population decline, according to a report from the House Appropriations Committee.

“Growing districts have had to share marginal increases with districts experiencing declining enrollments, creating a gap between the per-student levels of state funding. Exacerbating these inequities, many distributions in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s required a minimum 1% or 2% increase in state funding for each school district.

These minimum increases diverted funds from need-based distributions,” according to the report compiled by Budget Analyst Sean Brandon.

According to the report, in the four years between 2011 to 2015, the state used four different formulas to allocate funding. The use of non-standard formulas almost guaranteed inequity.

One way to make funding more equitable is to standardize how schools are funded. In 2016, the fair-funding formula was passed to increase money to needy districts and stop the “hold-harmless” guarantee, freezing them at 2014 levels, but there have been loopholes.

Closing those loopholes would be a good start.

Another way to fix the problem is to stop penalizing financially-strapped schools. Sto-Rox is under a microscope due to the recovery plan they were placed on because they could not balance their budget.

Consequently, they’ve been tasked with cutting their budget while simultaneously increasing their students’ test scores. They’ve been raising taxes which has done almost nothing to increase their bottom line.

Businesses are leaving the area, and the increase in taxes is not an incentive when those big box stores and franchises can go right next door to neighboring townships with much lower rates. As stores close up, they are not being replaced. So there’s a mass exodus, leaving the children of Sto-Rox further behind.

This forced stagnation is formative and hopelessness sets in. Many students will never expect to move toward a better future. By failing to teach them, they begin to believe the future does not include them. That’s not true.

They deserve better than this fractured system.



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