Public Policy Program

Compiled by Bernie Gardiner
“Is Public Education Funded Fairly?”

Public education is a key issue for AAUW and for Pennsylvania.  One important aspect of the issue is that of funding the public schools.  Where do the funds for public education come from and are they distributed equitably?

Funding for public schools come from the federal government, the state government and property taxes.   Kathy Boccella of the Philadelphia Inquirer (September 30, 2014): ‘the ‘Circuit Riders’ said, “presently, about 34% of school funds come from the state, down from a high of 54% in 1974”.

In 2009 and 2010, additional public education funds were provided by the federal government to help states make it through the recession.  However, the cutting of that additional federal funding in 2011 (a loss not fully compensated for) resulted in a loss of more than a billion dollars, over the next four years, for Pennsylvania public schools.

Advocates are pushing legislators for a new funding formula and say that it must address individual characteristics of each district, including special education enrollment, charter schools, English learning, and poverty.  According to Boccella , “a 15-member Basic Education Funding Commission was formed in June to look at a formula that would be based on relative wealth, local tax effort, geographic price differences, enrollment levels, and local support”.  Their recommendations will be taken to the General Assembly.

A coalition of 40 organizations representing educators, business and labor leaders, faith-based organizations, and civic and child-advocacy groups is in the making, says Boccella.  Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children is chairing the group’s governing body.  Former state lawmaker Kathy Manderino is the campaign manager.

Funding makes a quantifiable difference; research shows that children in well-resourced schools perform better on achievement tests.  Other states, on average, contribute 48% of education funding…not Pennsylvania.  Almost 80% of school districts’ funding comes from property taxes.  High poverty schools spend an annual average of $3,000 less per student than wealthy schools.  Kathy Manderino and several advocacy groups want to see the commonwealth find a long-term solution that adequately and equitably funds public schools (August, 2014).