Group says Pa. school funding needs big changes

February 1, 2008 5:47:37 AM PST
Each fiscal year, Philadelphia public school administrators scrape and scramble for a dollar here and dollar there. But usually, something has to be cut because there isn't a dollar to be found anywhere. Today, some city residents called for sweeping reform in Pennsylvania's funding formula as the only way to turn things around.

They met at Kearney Elementary School in Fairmount.

State Representative W. Curtis Thomas (D-181st) was among them. He has joined a coalition of two dozen diverse groups that have formed the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign.

Citing improved scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) test, Thomas said principals, teachers and students are trying to do their part. Now, he said, it is time for the state to step up with some money.

"With all of these gains," Thomas said. "We need to do more for our children. We cannot continue to expect children to have Cadillac education results on a Hyundai budget."

Thomas said that the current formula rests largely on a municipality's ability to contribute tax revenue toward the school budget.

"The way we fund education in Pennsylvania must change," Thomas said. "So that we can deliver the best education possible to all of our students regardless of a municipality's property tax contribution."

Released in November, the Costing Out Study commissioned by the legislature concluded that public education is significantly under funded.

It estimated that $5 billion dollars might be needed to close the gap between what is spent now, and what must be spent to achieve adequate funding statewide.

The per pupil cost is based on what is needed in funding so that students reach academic fulfillment.

The study calculated that the annual per pupil costs fell short in 471 of the state's 501 school districts. Philadelphia's spending shortfall was put at $5,000 per pupil. .

The solution will never be simple because the problem is not. But Thomas says that one priority for Philadelphia is changing how schools are funded in the city. .

"I personally believe that we need to change the way in which schools are funded locally so that the Philadelphia School District has a dedicated source of funds through its own taxing authority," Thomas said.

Currently, property taxes fund the lion's share of the public school budget.

Thomas wants Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to address the funding problem in his budget address.

"I fully endorse the new funding formula called ASSET, that the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign has proposed," Thomas said. "I join the campaign in asking Governor Rendell to provide the $1 billion down payment toward full, five year implementation of needed funds. I pledge to work with other legislators to make the funding proposal, a reality."