Education Funding

Pennsylvania Bucks Tide on Funding Squeeze

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 22, 2008 4 min read

Bucking pressure from a downturn in the nation’s economy that has chilled school spending in a number of states, Pennsylvania is forging ahead with its largest K-12 education increase in at least two decades.

The $9.6 billion for elementary and secondary education in the fiscal year that began July 1 includes a 5.5 percent hike in basic funds for schools. Even more important, say state education officials and advocacy organizations, is a new law aimed at assuring more funding equity between school districts.

Gov. Ed Rendell displays the bill increasing state education funding. Flanking him at the July 8 signing ceremony at Upper Darby High School are state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, left, and state Rep. Mario Civera, R-Delaware County.

Under the new formula, some districts this year could receive as much as a 20 percent increase in funding, said Gerald L. Zahorchak, Pennsylvania’s secretary of education, in a telephone interview last week. The law assures that no school district will get less than a 3 percent boost.

“The formula change is the most dramatic thing that has happened in my 30 years of being an educator here in Pennsylvania,” said Mr. Zahorchak, who oversees an education system that serves 1.8 million students. “It levels the playing field.”

The new formula, supported by both the governor and overwhelmingly by legislators, provides extra money for school districts based on such factors as the number of low-income students or English-language learners and the wealth of the community.

Under the previous school funding system, said James P. Testerman, the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, “you found your urban centers spending less money on education because they had fewer resources.”

The teachers’ union is one of 25 organizations that in January formed the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, which supports increased K-12 spending and improvments in how the money is given out.

Calls for Change

The new funding formula is based on recommendations in a cost study done by the legislature last year. That study estimated that Pennsylvania was $4 billion short of what it should be spending each year on K-12 education.

Mr. Testerman said that while the $275 million increase in basic K-12 funding approved for this fiscal year represents progress toward closing the gap, his organization had hoped that the hike would be closer to a half billion dollars.

State officials, meanwhile, say that when increases in education-related programs from other parts of the budget are figured in, Pennsylvania actually will boost funding for prekindergarten through high school by $305 million over the previous fiscal year.

The budget bill signed July 4 by Gov. Edward G. Rendell includes an additional $17 million for special education, and an increase of $11 million for an early-childhood program.

At the same time, however, funding for a program that provides classroom technology and professional development was reduced by $45 million.

The state’s new general fund budget is $28.3 billion, up from $27.2 billion the previous year.

“Economically, we are doing very well compared to other states,” said Barry Ciccocioppo, a spokesman for Gov. Rendell, a Democrat. “The national economy is starting to affect Pennsylvania’s economy but not to the extent of other states.”

Mr. Ciccocioppo said the enacted budget is about $72.4 million less than what the governor had first proposed. The new budget includes an economic stimulus package intended to create jobs through investments in repairing bridges and the state’s water and sewer infrastructure.

Ron Cowell, the president of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based Education Policy and Leadership Center, a member of the coalition that pushed for changes in school funding, said that while the state made “enormous progress” this year, it did not improve how it pays for special education.

The funding formula continues to be based on the average percentage of students with disabilities statewide rather than on actual enrollment of such students in individual districts or the actual costs of providing services, he said.

Concerns Remain

Among the organizations in the coalition, Mr. Cowell said, “there is a unanimous view that special education needs to be addressed during this coming year” to better reflect the actual costs at the district level.

Shannan B. Guthrie, a spokeswoman for a regional education service agency that assists 22 school districts in or near the Pennsylvania cities of Lebanon and Lancaster, said districts feel the strain of paying for the lion’s share of the cost of special education.

“The amount of money that is available isn’t keeping pace with the real cost of educating those students,” she said.

David R. Baldinger, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations, said the 29 organizations in his coalition believe the new funding formula gives short shrift to the needs of rural districts.

Coalition members believe changes in the formula do nothing to address the main concern of the coalition: The state uses property taxes to pay for education. The coalition’s alternative plan calls for the state to broaden the base for sales taxes to include taxes on services, such as haircuts and oil changes, and to raise personal-income taxes to pay for education, among other actions.

A version of this article appeared in the August 27, 2008 edition of Education Week as Pennsylvania Bucks Tide on Funding Squeeze

Events

Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding To Get Billions in COVID-19 Aid, States Pledge Focus on Mental Health, Learning Recovery
Twenty-eight states had submitted plans to the Education Department as of mid-June to access $41 billion from the American Rescue Plan.
4 min read
Illustration of money floating in a life preserver.
ISerg/iStock/Getty
Education Funding Some in Congress Fear State Budget Decisions May Undercut COVID-19 Education Relief
A dispute in Wisconsin over coronavirus relief underscores how technical issues and politics are affecting education spending decisions.
4 min read
Image shows an illustration of money providing relief against coronavirus.
DigitalVision Vectors/iStock/Getty
Education Funding There Are Big Funding Gaps Affecting High-Poverty Schools. Can Biden Close Them?
Hurdles lie ahead for a $20 billion bid to create "Title I equity grants" to address long-standing funding inequities.
9 min read
President Joe Biden talks about the May jobs report from the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Del., Friday, June 4, 2021.
President Joe Biden made boosting Title I for disadvantaged students a key part of his education platform on the campaign trail.
Susan Walsh/AP
Education Funding Education Department Issues Directive on Shielding Students in Poverty From Funding Cuts
The agency released the "maintenance of equity" guidance on COVID-19 relief as part of a public-relations blitz on equity amid the pandemic.
5 min read
Image of a $100 dollar bill that is cut into blocks for distribution.
E+/Getty