Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell reserved one of the few increases in his proposed fiscal 2009 budget for education, saying last week that it is important to begin funneling money into a new, fairer school funding formula, as a legislative study has recommended.
In his budget address Feb. 5, the governor proposed a $28.3 billion spending plan for the Keystone State, 4.2 percent more than the fiscal 2008 budget. If the legislature adopts his proposal, precollegiate spending will rise 4.7 percent, to $9.8 billion.
One of the biggest chunks of education spending, the basic education subsidy, could get an increase of 5.9 percent, or $291 million, thanks in part to Gov. Rendell’s desire to address inequities in the way Pennsylvania funds its 501 school districts.
“This budget begins the process of building a new school funding formula that will finally provide all Pennsylvania public schools with the resources they need to provide a quality education,” he said in the prepared text of his budget address.
A Base Cost of Education
Gov. Rendell, a Democrat, was responding to the findings of a “costing out” study commissioned by the legislature, which found that Pennsylvania would have to spend $4.6 billion a year more on education to meet its goal of having all students academically proficient by 2014.
It also suggested that the state adopt a spending framework that establishes a base cost of education and adds weights—more money—for children’s and districts’ special needs.(“Study Finds Need for Sharp School Spending Hike in Pa.,” Nov. 28, 2007.)
The governor’s proposed increase in the basic education subsidy represents the first phase in what he envisions as a six-year, $2.6 billion infusion into schools, distributed according to the new formula outlined in the legislative study.
The question of whether a new funding formula will be adopted is now up to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Lawmakers must also decide whether to accept or revise the governor’s budget proposal. Democrats control the House of Representatives and Republicans control the Senate.
Some lawmakers have complained that the governor’s overall proposed spending levels are too high against a shaky national economic backdrop. A group of Republicans in the legislature is proposing a fiscal 2009 budget that holds spending to this year’s level.
But Janis Risch, the director of Good Schools Pennsylvania, one of the advocacy groups that pressed for a new funding formula, called the governor’s proposal “a monumental achievement” in a state that has long used a fragmented approach to send money to its schools.
“The challenge for advocates,” she said, “is to make sure the six-year phase-in sticks.”
Gov. Rendell’s second and last term as governor ends in January 2011.
A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2008 edition of Education Week as School Spending Boost, Revised Funding Formula Pressed in Pennsylvania