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Commission recommends new funding formula for Pa. schools

The formula would benefit Philadelphia and other school districts with higher levels of poverty and charter schools. It requires legislation from lawmakers.

Hite (left) & Wolf: Can they find formula? (YONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Hite (left) & Wolf: Can they find formula? (YONG KIM/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)Read more

A BIPARTISAN commission yesterday unanimously recommended a new funding formula for Pennsylvania schools that would allocate more state funding to districts with higher levels of poverty, English-language learners and charter schools.

The proposed formula from the Basic Education Funding Commission also factors in a school district's total enrollment and assigns weights to other elements that impact learning to determine how they drive up the cost of educating a student. Additionally, it compares a district's median household income with the state median household income.

The proposal will require legislation and approval from state lawmakers, along with the approval of Gov. Wolf, who has advocated for a fair funding formula. If approved, the formula would be put in place for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The proposed formula, which was long-awaited and debated, would largely benefit Philadelphia and other urban and rural districts that traditionally have more low-income students who require additional resources. Advocates applauded the commission and said the formula is key to closing the gap that results in huge funding disparities among districts across the commonwealth.

"The formula notably takes into account the full range of local revenue that goes towards schools and the conditions facing districts and municipalities," Superintendent William Hite said in a statement released by the district yesterday. "We believe this will go a long way in the future toward providing equity across rural, suburban and large urban school districts statewide."

Advocates also said that while the proposed formula is a step in the right direction, more investments in education are needed to level the playing field.

"A formula is only as good as the money behind it, and without enough money the formula will not do anything to make students' lives better, so we have to make sure there's a budget allocation that goes along with this recommendation about how to allocate money," said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters PA. "It's critical."

Wolf, in an afternoon news conference with members of the commission in Harrisburg, said the proposed formula is evidence lawmakers can work across the aisle to get important work done.

"This formula makes a really important difference for our schools, and it makes the allocation for education funding more transparent as well as fair and much more predictable," Wolf said. "Those are things I think are really important."

The proposed formula is part of a report issued by the commission - convened a year ago by then-Gov. Tom Corbett - which includes six Republicans and six Democrats from the House and Senate and three officials from the governor's office.

The commission held public hearings throughout the commonwealth and gathered input from a variety of stakeholders and researchers.

Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the country that does not use student-weighted factors to allocate school funding. A previous formula implemented under Gov. Ed Rendell was scrapped by Corbett, who succeeded him.