Historic Education Funding Reform Effort to Begin in Pennsylvania

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PENNSYLVANIA — Pennsylvania lawmakers are set to undertake a historic effort this fall to reform the state’s education funding system, which was declared unconstitutional by a state court earlier this year. The General Assembly’s Basic Education Funding Commission has been tasked with drafting a blueprint for a more equitable funding system.

Donna Cooper, the executive director of Children First PA, expressed optimism about the upcoming initiative, stating, “We’re very excited about the opportunity to inform the commission and make sure that they tackle the root challenges.”

The issue of education funding has been a top priority for Governor Josh Shapiro during his first year in office. In February, Commonwealth Court President Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer ruled that the state’s reliance on property taxes to fund public education disadvantaged children in poor communities. She declared the system unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers to rectify it.

The 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission, composed of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans from each chamber of the General Assembly and three members of Shapiro’s administration, will hold its first three of ten hearings in Allentown, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia this week. The commission is expected to submit a report by November 30.

The commission last convened in 2014 to address issues with education funding during Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration. It established a fair funding formula that directed more state money to districts unable to raise adequate funds through property taxes. However, this formula applies to less than 20% of the $7 billion distributed to Pennsylvania and only to new funding from 2016 onward.

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Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, argued that for the formula to function correctly, the funding commission’s plan must determine adequate funding levels for each school district based on student needs. This should be in line with the level of funding in well-performing school districts. Spicka also suggested expanding the scope of the commission beyond basic education funding to include special education, facilities, and transportation.

Spicka emphasized the urgency of the situation, stating, “This is not a moment when they can kick the can down the road.” She urged the state to determine its fair share of overall funding to close the gaps and implement a new funding formula within three to five years.

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