Pottstown Schools Host Forum on School-Funding Formula
State funds – which make up roughly 34 percent of school district funding – are distributed in a way that does little to minimize the disparities, although Pennsylvania’s new fair funding formula was implemented last year with an eye to doing just that, said Michael Churchill, another staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center.
The new formula awards state funding based on several factors, including the number of students living in poverty, learning English as a second language and receiving special education services. But its “hold harmless” clause protects districts against funding cuts – even when their populations decrease – and dictates that only increases to state education funding after 2015 are doled out according to the formula.
If the formula were used to calculate Pottstown’s full share of state money, the district would receive an additional $14 million per year or $4,218 per student, Churchill said. The district currently spends about $17,000 annually per student.
Churchill said the ultimate solution is increasing the pot of state funding available based on the actual cost of education, which ultimately would lessen the possibility of cuts for districts currently receiving more than their fair share.
“The long-term question that the legislature does not want to ask is what is necessary to fund schools and are we going to pay for it?” he said.
State Rep. Tim Hennessey, whose district includes Pottstown and parts of Chester County, said he supports expanding the fair funding formula, but the challenge lies in convincing legislators from more rural parts of the state to support it. That results in “a bias against the southeast part of the state,” he said.
In 2014 the Public Interest Law Center filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Education and others on behalf of six Pennsylvania school districts, alleging the state has failed to uphold its constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education. Urevick-Ackelsberg and Churchill said they’re optimistic the state Supreme Court will rule in their favor.