Last month, I updated our High School Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) on our school district’s legal case against the PA Department of Education and the idea of fair funding. We are hopeful the case goes to trial this year. It is tentatively scheduled for this summer in Commonwealth Court.
In 2016, the state Legislature adopted a new bipartisan formula to allocate its basic education funding (BEF) appropriations to school district. The formula takes into consideration demographic indicators that raise the cost of basic education, such as a district’s poverty rate and the share of students for whom English is not their native language. Then, the formula considers the capacity of the local tax base to fund these needs. It looks something like this:
Yet today, only about 10 percent of the state’s total appropriations are currently distributed based on the formula.
The School District of Lancaster serves more than twice as many students who are economically disadvantaged as the Lancaster County average. We have seven times as many English Learners. It takes significant investments in academic supports and student services to ensure equitable opportunity for our students. For instance, we have to hire 75 additional teachers to support English Language Learners, who make up nearly 20 percent of our study enrollment.
For this school year, SDoL received $63.7 million in state funding. If the entire state BEF appropriation were run through the funding formula, the district would receive nearly $90 million, a difference of $25 million. Instead, our district taxpayers bear a disproportionate share of the burden to support our student population.
We are not alone. Many of our neighboring school districts are short-changed by how little funding is allocated based on the formula. Conestoga Valley ($9.4 million), Manheim Township ($6.1 million), Columbia ($2.7 million) and Lampeter-Strasburg ($2.4 million) are among those underfunded to some degree.
For us, the impact is felt in larger class sizes, persistent opportunity gaps for our students compared to those in other districts, limited early childhood programs, restrictions on transportation and a lack of before and after school programs.
What is our school board to do? There are no easy answers. Our board can raise taxes, cut programs or some combination of both. Everyone feels some pain.
The new education funding formula is the result of a years-long, bipartisan effort to distribute scarce state resources equitably. We continue to urge our lawmakers to implement the full fair funding formula as soon as possible.