Pennsylvania’s Historic School Funding Problem

Between 1991 and 2008, Pennsylvania did not have a functional school finance formula that distributed state funds to school districts either adequately or equitably.  Hundreds of school districts lacked enough funding to provide all students with a quality education, and the state’s public school funding system did not distribute money to schools on an efficient or predictable basis.  Members of the General Assembly who voted on budgets during that time had no objective way of knowing which districts had adequate resources and which ones did not.

In 2006, the General Assembly authorized a Costing-Out Study to determine the resources needed to help all students achieve the state’s academic standards.  Act 114 of 2006 required the study to address two issues – adequacy and equity.  The study of adequacy was to determine what it costs for all of our students – no matter where they live – to attain state academic standards.  The study of equity was to address the growing gap between high- and low-spending districts and the implications for the quality of education received by students and for local taxpayers.  The Costing Out study was released a year later and resulted in a funding formula implemented in 2008.

The formula, which took into account the number of students and factors such as poverty levels and local tax effort, was abandoned in 2011 when Governor Corbett took office.  Education dollars are currently distributed to schools based on what each district received last year (hold-harmless), with some additional supplements based on political considerations more so than any sound and evenly applied education funding principle.

Pennsylvania’s school districts continue to be highly dependent on the local wealth of their communities to support students’ academic achievement due to insufficient state funding.  Almost every state pays a larger percentage of overall public education costs than Pennsylvania does.  On average, other states contribute 45 percent of total education funding, but Pennsylvania contributes only 36 percent.  This low state share means that Pennsylvania’s local school districts must pay 55 percent of all public education costs, compared to the national average of 44 percent.  As a result, Pennsylvania’s state share of PK-12 education funding ranks 45th in the nation.  Source: US Census Bureau 2014

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