Below is the text of a letter to the editor I submitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer in response to an article about the challenges facing suburban public school districts that required them to raise property taxes and cut services. The letter seeks to point out that the challenge faced by these districts is part of a much larger issue regarding how Pennsylvania funds (or as the case may be, does not fund) its public schools.
The recent article, “School Tax Vise” (Inquirer, July 29, 2013) reveals that the funding challenges being faced by the School District of Philadelphia are also being faced many suburban districts which have had to raise school taxes and make significant cuts in order to keep their public schools operational. While currently suburban districts have been able to manage these challenges, their plight reveals a fundamental flaw in the way Pennsylvania public schools are currently being funded.
In February 2013 the Education Law Center published Funding, Formulas and Fairness, a study of how Pennsylvania funds its public schools in comparison to other states. Some troubling comparisons were revealed. On average states provide 43.5% of the total amount of money on public education; Pennsylvania spends only 35.8%. By contrast on average states expect local communities to provide approximately 44% of the funding needed through local property taxes; Pennsylvania requires local communities to raise 53% (all percentages are based on 2010 data, the most recent year available). Furthermore, Pennsylvania is one of only 3 states that does not use a standard funding formula for allocating what state funds it does provide. Such formulas take into account community income levels, specific student needs, the number of ESL students and other factors to make sure that all public schools have the resources to provide adequate education regardless of location, income level and nature of the students. The lack of such a funding formula makes school funding a subject of political wrangling, and in particular leaves disproportionately poor districts such as Philadelphia and Chester, grossly underfunded.
Community groups such as the Education Law Center and POWER (Philadelphians Organized for Witness, Empowerment and Rebuilding) are seeking to work with political leaders, educators and like-minded citizens to establish a funding formula for all public schools, so that the constitutional mandate to provide quality public education for all Pennsylvania’s children can be fulfilled. Public education is an issue that unites both suburban and urban districts and should compel all citizens who care about our children’s futures to bring Pennsylvania in line with other states on this vital public issue.