Local Taxpayers Pick Up Slack in State's Basic Ed Subsidy

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The second meeting of the Basic Education Funding Commission, on August 20 in Harrisburg, got off to a rocky start. Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) read a statement on behalf of the House Republican caucus indicating a lack of interest in addressing the adequacy of education funding and great interest in protecting the hold harmless funding system (which ensures minimum funding increases for districts with declining enrollments).

Events soon turned more cordial as commission members expressed a willingness to gather as much information as possible, from all perspectives, and even to consider previously verboten topics, such as the 2006 Costing Out Study - the basis for the 2008 adequacy funding formula.

Deputy Secretary Nicole Duffy gave an overview of the multiple changes in Pennsylvania’s school funding formula that have effectively left the commonwealth without anything resembling a rational funding formula. Of note is the fact that the first formula, enacted in 1983, took into consideration student poverty, and subsequent formulas included additional funding based on district size, enrollment and tax effort, many of the same factors used in the 2008 formula.

The department’s presentation also noted that total basic education funding declined from $5.8 billion in 2010-11 to $5.4 billion in 2011-13.

Buried in the presentation was a key fact. The basic education subsidy, which is more than 50% of the Pre-k to 12 education budget and the largest state source of funding for districts, has grown more slowly than overall district revenue. Local property taxpayers and, to a lesser extent, federal funds have had to pick up the slack.

Jim Buckheit, of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, and Jay Himes, of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, provided a detailed and informative primer on the overall public education system in Pennsylvania. I’ll share the highlights in my next blogpost.

The next commission meeting is on September 9 in the Lehigh Valley. You can follow the goings-on and download the presentations from the commission’s website.

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