On Thursday, January 11th, Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) approved a detailed and comprehensive report with recommendations that, if implemented, would bring transformational change to Pennsylvania’s school funding system and have a life-changing impact on public school students.
The BEFC report demonstrates a new recognition in Harrisburg that the state has a constitutional responsibility to provide adequate and equitable funding for public education to meet students’ needs.
We are deeply grateful to the members of the BEFC who took their duty seriously and dedicated countless hours to traveling the state and listening to testifiers so that they could write a report that presents a plan to keep the constitutional promise to our children.
Our work moving forward is clear: We need advocates in every corner of the state to speak up in support of Governor Shapiro and state lawmakers coming together to enact and fund the plan in the BEFC report.
The first step is for Governor Shapiro to introduce this plan into his 2024-25 budget proposal. Next, the General Assembly needs to adopt and fund the plan in the 2024-25 budget and commit to fully funding the recommendations over the next seven years.
In addition, there can be NO implementation of a new school voucher program BEFORE public schools are fully funded in compliance with the Commonwealth Court order.
The state has limited funding for education. Every tax dollar that pays for tuition to an unaccountable and discriminatory private school leaves fewer dollars available for the state to comply with the court order to fully fund public schools that enroll and educate ALL children.
And let’s not forget that Pennsylvania already spends $470 million annually on school vouchers through the existing Educational Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Tax Credit voucher programs with no evidence that these programs improve educational outcomes for students.
Click HERE to find a copy of the report that was approved. Spreadsheets beginning on p. 56 detail the estimated amount of funding each district would receive with this plan.
Report Highlights and Details
The BEFC made the following recommendations to the Governor, General Assembly, and State Board of Education on page 2 of the report:
- Reduce the volatility in the basic education funding (BEF) formula by using three-year averages in certain data elements, lessening the concentrated poverty “cliff,” and resetting the base at the 2023/24 distribution level. Provide at least a $200 million increase through this updated BEF formula each year that would be shared among all 500 school districts;
- Calculate adequacy targets for each school district;
- Reconstitute the next BEFC in 2029 per Act 51 of 2014;
- Invest in school facilities;
- Examine charter school funding;
- Invest in our education workforce;
- Invest in student supports; and
- Consider other important education issues outside the direct scope of this BEFC.
- The report sets a total adequacy target of $5.4 billion with a state share of $5.1 billion. The Commission report used updated data and arrived at a somewhat lower number than the $6.2 billion that we had been asking for.
- To calculate the adequacy targets the BEFC used Pennsylvania’s performance standards to ascertain which districts are successful. They then used PA’s school funding formulas to calculate a weighted student count for each district and applied the successful schools’ adequate spending level as a target for all school districts (This is explained on p. 10 of the report).
- The plan in the BEFC report, if enacted, will provide substantial, transformational new funding directed to school districts and students that need it the most.
Why the adequacy targets matter
For the first time, state lawmakers have acknowledged that they can no longer allocate whatever amount of funding each year is convenient for increases in public school funding. Instead, the BEFC’s approval of this report demonstrates an understanding that the General Assembly and Governor have a responsibility to determine and provide funding necessary to meet needs of districts in order to comply with the requirements of the Education Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Timeline for implementation
- School districts’ base funding would be reset to what they received in 2023-2024.
- All school districts would receive a share of at least a $200 million increase through the Basic Education Funding Formula each year for all seven years.
- The adequacy gap would be filled through equal payments over seven years. The first-year adequacy allocation would be $735 million to the 372 districts that have adequacy gaps. Adequacy funding would be added to districts’ base funding each year.
As the report states on page 11, “Local tax effort varies throughout the commonwealth because school districts have different local tax capacities and because some districts have gone to greater lengths to backfill insufficient state aid. Therefore, it would be unfair to treat each school district’s adequacy gap the same. Applying the local tax effort and capacity factors from the current formula to the adequacy model will inject an element of tax fairness. Moreover, there are school districts with very high local tax efforts that do not register an adequacy gap but would if they had a local tax effort closer to the median rate. This supports the notion of a separate tax equity component.”
Local share provisions
- The Commission’s report assigned $291 million of the $5.4 billion to local share, which is about 5.5% of the total allocation.
- There is no requirement that districts raise local property taxes to fund the local share.
- School districts with tax effort at or above the 33rd percentile of districts in the state have no local share and districts below that will be assessed some local share. There is an additional tax effort requirement for high growth districts.
- There is an additional, small tax equity component of $136 million to address highest tax effort districts.
The report acknowledges that the state must take on some responsibility to fix school districts’ crumbling infrastructure and proposes that $300 million annually over seven years is allocated for facilities. The report includes options for a distribution method.
Funding for special education, pre-K, and career and technical education are not specifically addressed in the report.
The BEFC report provides a roadmap for an education funding system that will allow all of Pennsylvania’s children to attend a public school that offers opportunities to realize their potential and build a bright future.
We look forward to working with you in the upcoming weeks and months to lift up voices in communities throughout the commonwealth in support of this plan and to make adequate, equitable, and constitutional public school funding a reality for ALL of Pennsylvania’s public school students.