Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Educators Call for Permanent Funding Formula

Andrea Sears, Public News Service 

Advocates are asking for $400 million in new school funding. (Kumar Appaiah/
Advocates are asking for $400 million in new school funding. (Kumar Appaiah/
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Education advocates traveled to Harrisburg this week to tell lawmakers that schools need to be fully funded in the next state budget.

In the budget that was finally adopted for the current fiscal year, the Legislature did apply the bipartisan funding formula educators have requested for years. But Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, said the formula is only as good as the money that goes into it, "which is why we now need the General Assembly to take the next step and appropriate more dollars to go through the basic education funding formula in the next year."

The funding formula, which was put in place through the state's fiscal code, only applies to the current budget year, which ends June 30, but advocates want the formula to be made permanent.

The budget impasse forced schools to borrow almost $1 billion to keep their doors open. On Monday, the House Education Committee approved a measure that would keep money flowing if the next budget isn't in place by mid-August.

Klehr said she hopes political battles never again force schools to close, but added that she feels this bill may not be the answer.

"We are concerned that this legislation could take the pressure off of Harrisburg to pass a comprehensive budget package that begins to restore needed resources," she said.

The Education Law Center estimated that the school budget is about $3 billion short of the amount that would adequately fund education in the state. Klehr said Pennsylvania has the largest gap in spending between rich and poor school districts of any state.

"We are asking the General Assembly to appropriate $400 million this year," she said, "as a step towards adequacy and closing those gaps."

Gov. Tom Wolf had proposed a $400 million increase in school funding for the current fiscal year, but the Legislature was unwilling to raise taxes to pay for it. So far, the lawmakers' position has not changed.

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