Commission Tasked With Exploring Solutions to Pa. School Funding Holds Hearing at Capitol
HARRISBURG, Pa. (WENY) - Today, Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) held a hearing at the State Capitol to gather testimony from experts and school officials.
The 15-member commission consists of three members from each legislative caucus and three members of the administration. Under the Public School Code, the 2023 BEFC is “charged with reviewing the distribution of state funding for basic education to Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts and providing a report of its findings to the General Assembly.”
A Commonwealth Court ruling from earlier this year has magnified the commission’s responsibility this year as they look to remedy the state’s public education funding issue.
“I think the difference now is that the court case that said it's unconstitutional basically is holding a pretty big hammer over our head,” said Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), Co-Chair of the commission.
In February, Commonwealth Court sided with petitioners in the fair funding trial by ruling the current funding system is inadequate, inequitable and unconstitutional.
“We need to remedy the local-state share,” said Maura McInerney, Legal Director at the Education Law Center. “We have one of the lowest state share of contributions to education in the nation. And that is what drives the inequities in our system,” she added.
McInerney says the state needs to step up with a remedy for all students in Pennsylvania.
“That begins with identifying what resources are needed, recognizing that children who are in low wealth communities need additional funding, not less, which is what they’re currently getting,” said McInerney. “The commission has a historic opportunity to remedy the entrenched inequities in our school funding system,” she added.
Now it’s up to the Basic Education Funding Commission to review the distribution of state funds to Pennsylvania's 500 school districts.
“We've got to figure out ways to fund it, and the adequate levels of funding. We've got to figure out a way to distribute it equitably and what gets weighted and which kids need more help than others,” said Rep. Sturla.
“If this was easy, it would have been taken care of decades ago,” said Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), the other Co-Chair of the commission.
Phillips-Hill says she is still looking for solid data on exactly how much funding is needed, how it should be collected and distributed.
“How do we implement it, what's the timeline for implementation, what does that mix of state and local revenue look like? And of course, what are those things that contribute to a thorough and efficient education,” said Phillips-Hill as she listed questions she says still need to be answered. “I think we have to really pinpoint what those costs are and how the formula actually works... in order for us to make data informed decisions in the best interest of children and also of the people who pay the bills to educate those children,” Phillips-Hill added.
The commission will continue to gather input and testimony across the state before they present recommendations to the General Assembly. The clock is ticking, but many members of the commission stressed this is not an overnight fix.
“You get some of the experts saying ‘that didn't work in other places, sounds good, but don't bother with it.’ So we go back, then we hash all that out and say, okay, what is it we want to focus on? And we've got a couple of months here to put our nose to the grindstone and get this done,” said Sturla.