Buoyed by the end of the state budget stalemate and the creation of a new school funding formula this month, Philadelphia education advocates on Wednesday called on the state legislature to pump $400 million in new money into 2016-17 school budgets.
If the request becomes reality, the city School District would receive 18.9 percent, or about $75 million, of that new funding, said the advocates, who held a news conference in front of the district's North Broad Street headquarters.
The school funding formula, used to determine how much money each district receives from the state, is laudable for allocating funding based on the number of students in each district weighted for factors such as the number of students who are poor, who are learning English, and who have newly enrolled in charter schools, advocates say.
But the formula is only as good as its funding, the advocates stressed, saying schools across the state are underfunded annually by more than $3 billion.
"We need to fund the formula," said lawyer Deborah Gordon Klehr of the Education Law Center.
"Pennsylvania has the largest funding gap between wealthiest and poorest schools in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education. So a formula is only as good as the funding that goes through it."
The request for $400 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, while not enough, is a good step toward addressing the school budget cuts made by Gov. Tom Corbett in 2011, said Michael Churchill, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center.
"Schools have nowhere near the amount of money that all the studies show is necessary so kids can actually succeed," Churchill said after the rally.
Also on hand were leaders from Education Voters, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, and Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
The Philadelphia groups are part of a two-year-old statewide coalition of education organizations, nonprofit groups, businesses, unions, and churches known as the Campaign for Fair Education Funding.
The coalition worked to get the funding formula enacted and will be in Harrisburg Monday lobbying for the $400 million request, the local leaders said.
"Our powerful statewide coalition has a demonstrated track record of success, and we agree that we must now get the legislature to fund the formula so that we finally end the curse of a child's zip code determining the public education quality in Pennsylvania," said Donna Cooper of PCCY.