Wednesday, June 15, 2016

CURMUDGUCATION: PA: School Funding Emerges from Time Warp

CURMUDGUCATION: PA: School Funding Emerges from Time Warp:

PA: School Funding Emerges from Time Warp

Pennsylvania now has a formula for distributing education dollars to school districts.

You will notice that I didn't say "new formula." That's because, contrary to what rational human beings might assume, Pennsylvania hasn't had a formula for decades. Well, that's not exactly true. The formula has been Y times some-percent-usually-less-than-two of Y, with Y equalling "whatever you got last year." And this process, called "hold harmless" in PA, has been in place since around 1991. We fiddled with it a bit from 2008-2010, but it's only sort of an oversimplification to say that the foundation of our funding system has been 1991 enrollment figures.

That means if your enrollment has been increasing, your state funding has not increased to match it. Of course, it also means if enrollment has been dropping, your state funding hasn't dropped with it.

And it needs to be noted that since Pennsylvania ranks 44th in the percentage of state funding for public ed (36% overall), state funding is not critical for all districts. Districts that are able simply make up that difference locally. Districts that are not able just become increasingly poor and financially distressed. On top of that, add a mismanaged pension system that now has huge balloon payments come due, a charter reimbursement system that rips the guts out of public school funding, and an unregulated charter system that lets those charter claws reach the guts of even small rural districts. Also, a few years ago we totally used that stimulus money to replace the regular education budget funds, which meant that the end of stimulus funds left a huge hole in school funding. Oh, and last year when we couldn't settle a budget for nine months (ten, really, by the time we were done with the details)-- that didn't exactly help, either. Fun fact: back in 1971, the state was providing about 54% of public school funding. We've been in free fall ever since.

The effect is that the 36% figure is grossly misleading. A poor district like Reading gets 72% of its funding from the state; a rich district like New Hope-Solebury gets about 15%. That's not because Reading is getting so much more state money; that's because Reading is only able to kick in a small amount of local money.

The effect is also that we have major school finance crises in PA. This is how you get a district where teachers work for free or a district that considers closing down all its high schools or a district that is handed over to a bunch of political appointees to run. 

At any rate, Harrisburg has now developed a formula. It came up with the formula by surveying eighty public school districts and fourteen charters (because "Disproportionate Representation of and Care for Charters" is our middle name), then running the data through a bunch of politicians. It 
CURMUDGUCATION: PA: School Funding Emerges from Time Warp:



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