DELCO TIMES: More legislation on the verge on use of state’s fair funding formula

By Kevin Tustin, on Twitter

Another piece of legislation addressing the way state basic education subsidies are distributed to 500 public school districts is slowly making its way to the state House of Representatives.

Reps. Martina White, R-170 of Philadelphia, and Todd Stephens, R-151 of Horsham Township, are seeking co-sponsors for a bill that would require all $6 billion of the basic education fund to be appropriated through the fair funding formula. Their bill follows one introduced on May 7 by Reps. Tim Hennessey, R-26 of North Coventry, and Tom Quigley, R-146 of Royersford, that would alter how new basic education money introduced in each fiscal year is allocated through the state’s basic education funding formula (known as the fair funding formula).

At present, the fair funding formula is applied to about 7 percent of basic education money which is based on district demographics and information like poverty levels, number of English language learners, median household income and local effort capacity.

White and Stephens’ bill would not only increase the use of the funding formula, but it would remove the “hold-harmless” provision that says districts will receive state funding at a level that is no less than was received in the year prior no matter how many students are enrolled.

With this bill, 11 Delaware County school districts would actually be receiving more money than current methods: A “hold-harmless” lump with a few more dollars being given through the money distributed through the formula.

Here is how much more money districts would have gained/(lost) for the current school year if all $6 billion of basic education funding was applied to the formula according to a November 2017 state report: Chester Upland, ($4.86 million); Chichester, $91,297; Garnet Valley, $1.3 million; Haverford Township, $1.9 million; Interboro ($346,168); Marple Newtown, $1 million; Penn-Delco, ($1.4 million); Radnor Township, $1.1 million; Ridley, ($888,243); Rose Tree Media, $160,294; Southeast Delco, $4.9 million; Springfield, $1.7 million; Upper Darby, $15.7 million; Wallingford-Swarthmore, $112,575; and William Penn, $2 million.

If the formula was enacted to its fullest extent in the next year, 180 school districts would benefit and 320 would actually lose. This is why Quigley wanted a gradual increase in the use of the formula with the bill he introduced with Hennessey, including the portioning out of each year’s new basic education money with 75 percent of it going to the most underfunded schools and the remaining 25 going through the formula.

“It’s pretty impractical to do it all at one time in that matter, as opposed to a gradual manner where the schools that are currently underfunded start to rise a little bit,” said Quigley. “The ones who are overfunded, for lack of a better term, they start going down a little bit. You’re giving districts and people time to prepare for that change over a period of time.”

Stephens said with a pot of money that is distributed by the state, he thinks it should be done in a matter that a bipartisan commission said was the most fair and equitable. He would support relief so long as it is controlled at the local level where the money pinch of supporting schools is felt.

The elimination of local real estate taxes for higher statewide taxes that would fund education has been the topic of House Bills 76 and 1776, but Stephens was not confident with the state holding the purse strings.

“The old formula that has created these gross inequities were created by politicians in Harrisburg. If we eliminate property taxes, politicians would be solely deciding what each district is getting. I can’t support something that gives total control of funding to Harrisburg,” he said “Allowing other options is something I’d certainly take a look at, but I can’t be for something that sends all education funding control to Harrisburg.”

Stephens added that there’s building momentum in the Legislature about school funding.

“As more members who represent districts that are being short-changed and how much their taxpayers are being-short changed, they’re jumping on board,” he said. 

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