Education officials, advocates call for adequacy and equity in basic education funding at Samuelson virtual hearing
BETHLEHEM, Sept. 1 – Citing that only a small portion of overall education is run through the Fair Education Funding Formula, state Rep. Steve Samuelson held a virtual hearing to learn more from educators and advocates on how Pennsylvania can fulfill its constitutional obligation to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.
“Adequate state funding can make education resources more equitable based on the way we choose to allocate money,” Samuelson said. “The Fair Funding Formula was approved in 2016 but has not yet been fully implemented. We made progress this year with $100 million in Level Up funding distributed to underfunded districts like the Bethlehem Area School District. We need to continue efforts to fully implement the Fair Funding Formula.”
Sean Brandon, Budget Analyst for the House Appropriations Committee began his presentation noting the importance of that constitutional commitment and shared how the Fair Funding Formula and budget practices allocate funds to school districts across the state.
Joseph Roy, Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent and Karen Beck-Pooley, Bethlehem Area School District Director, shared from a district-level perspective of how they use the state funds received, noting challenges with charter school reimbursements and rising special education costs. Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by a lack of equitable state education funding. Regional tax capacity often determines the quality of education students receive and Beck-Pooley called attention to the unfortunate statistic that Pennsylvania remains the state with the largest per pupil spending gap between richest and poorest districts.
Potential solutions include using American Rescue Plan funding to help close that gap, or a bigger state investment that addresses the actual needs, and not just how to allocate the resources that aren’t currently enough for a system where 86 percent of students are attending underfunded schools.
Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center; Susan Spika, executive director, and Sandra Miller, advocacy coordinator with Education Voters PA reinforced the state’s constitution obligations to provide quality education opportunities to Pennsylvania’s children. There is currently a suit filed against the state challenging irrationalities as a whole, and aiming to render the current system inequitable and inadequate. If the courts rule in their favor, the legislature would be responsible for developing a new, more equitable system.
“The overarching themes of adequacy and equity echoed throughout the hearing and the legislature must continue to work towards just that. Education levels the playing field and can solve so many issues. Investing in our children is an investment in the future, and swift action is needed to ensure we can make sure this has more immediate impact on Pennsylvania’s children,” concluded Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, chairman of the Policy Committee.
The full hearing testimony is available at www.pahouse.com/policy.