Webinar: Investing in a "Thorough and Efficient System of Education": What Will it Take and How Do We Get There
The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the state to provide a “thorough and efficient system of education,” yet cuts in state funding and the abandonment of an equitable school funding formula have undermined that principle.
Sharon Ward of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center summarized Pennsylvania’s education funding challenges on this webinar, noting that the Commonwealth has contributed a smaller share of the total cost of education than the national average for the last 20 years and is more dependent on local taxes and local taxpayers. While a new funding formula was enacted in 2008 resulting in notable improvements in student performance, the formula was abandoned in 2011. The abandonment of the state funding formula, combined with significant reductions in public education beginning in 2011, has exacerbated the inefficiencies and inequalities, with the greatest negative impacts on school districts with the highest poverty levels.
Brett Schaeffer of the Education Law Center talked about efforts to create new funding formulas for basic and special education in 2014. He noted that a good funding formula uses a cost-based approach, recognizing that different students in different communities require different levels of state investment to meet state academic standards. When these cost differences are ignored, or not accurately accounted for, state officials and taxpayers have little information about whether the state is spending enough money or whether the right amount of money is getting to each school district.
State Representative Mike Sturla reported about the findings and recommendations of the Special Education Funding Commission, which released its report on December 11, 2013. The Commission received testimony from dozens of students, parents, educators, and national experts, who uniformly emphasized the long-term impact of the state funding system on the ability of schools to meet the needs of children with disabilities. The Commission's final recommendations included altering the overall structure of special education funding to adjust for relative district wealth and geographic density, as well as using real counts of students requiring services, improving data collection, and encouraging inclusion through competitive grant programs.