State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans: It’s time for Pa. to address education funding

We in Pennsylvania have serious work to do to address education funding, and we don’t have to look beyond York to see why.

A recent study concluded that York City School District is the most underfunded school district, on a per-student basis, in Pennsylvania.

The district also has the highest percentage of students living in acute, or extreme, poverty in Pennsylvania.

Those statistics help demonstrate how unfair the current system of school funding is, stacked against those students who need the most support.

More: Black students not identified as gifted learners at same rate as white peers

York City schools Superintendent Eric Holmes recently told the York Daily Record that our city students are just as intelligent, talented and capable as any other students in Pennsylvania – and I couldn’t agree more.

But in order for our children to learn, grow and achieve success, we need equitably funded schools.

A few years ago, Pennsylvania adopted a new basic education funding formula – one that looks at critical factors such as a district’s wealth, enrollment and population of children learning the English language. It was a big step toward making sure that we fund our schools equitably.

But the formula only applies to new funding, money above the 2014-15 base amount. So school districts that were severely underfunded for decades are still underfunded, and they will continue to be for decades if we do nothing else.

More: York City School District among most underfunded in Pennsylvania

How underfunded are they? Equity First, a group raising awareness of school funding issues in Pennsylvania, looked at what districts would receive if the formulas for basic and special education were applied to all funding proposed for next year.

The organization found that the top five underfunded school districts are:

  • York City School District, underfunded by $6,565 per student
  • Reading School District, underfunded by $6,520 per student
  • Harrisburg City School District, underfunded by $5,225 per student
  • Wilkes-Barre Area School District, underfunded by $4,468 per student
  • Pottstown School District, underfunded by $4,214 per student

The top five overfunded districts are:

  • South Side Area School District, overfunded by $7,666 per student
  • Avella Area School District, overfunded by $6,569 per student
  • Allegheny-Clarion Valley School District, overfunded by $5,981 per student
  • Meyersdale Area School District, overfunded by $5,926 per student
  • Western Beaver County School District, overfunded by $5,412 per student

There are legislative proposals in both the Senate and the House that would look to address underfunded districts – either by allocating more of the “new” money to those districts deemed underfunded, or by distributing all basic education funding through the formula.

Those proposals would have a major impact for York City – and other underfunded districts, including the others in the legislative district I represent, West York and York Suburban.

A lawsuit arguing that the state’s method of funding schools is unfair and unconstitutional continues to make its way through court, and the outcome could be a turning point for schools.

Pennsylvania ranks 47th in state share for education funding in the country.

Under Gov. Tom Wolf, we’ve steadily been increasing the state’s commitment to schools. His proposed budget for next year includes a $100 million increase for basic education and a $40 million increase for early childhood education programs.

There are ways to pay for that without increasing the pressure on taxpayers.

More: York City’s school recovery plan is showing positive results

A proposed severance tax on natural gas drilling would bring in an estimated $248 million in revenue next year alone. It’s a reasonable measure that would ask drillers to pay their fair share and help us fund much-needed programs and services in our state – such as our public schools. The vast majority of that burden would be shouldered out-of-state.

We can also close corporate tax loopholes and raise the minimum wage, a move that would help families and raise tax revenue.

The biggest complaint that I hear from residents in the 95th District is property taxes. If we fund schools the way they should be funded, school districts would have to rely less on local property taxes to provide what students need – so your bills would go down.

While we can’t undo decades of short-changing some of our schools, we can and must stop it from continuing.

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans is a Democrat from York City.

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