Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled a proposed education budget plan that would earmark $218 million of the state’s $6.9 billion basic education budget to area public schools.
Hundreds of millions sounds like an impressive amount of money, doesn’t it? It certainly would be, except some local school districts won’t see much of it, so don’t let the extra zeros fool you.
Education money is funneled to school districts using the state’s Basic Education Funding Formula, also known as the “fair funding formula.” Again, don’t be fooled by the name. When some students in the state get more funding than other students in the state, it’s anything but fair.
The formula, which applies to only new money after the 2014-15 fiscal year above the basic education amount, considers factors such as student population, the number of children living in poverty, the district’s ability to raise revenues and others.
The fair funding formula presents a problem helping get much needed funds to the poorest districts. Many of the school districts in Fayette, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene counties are in that category. It is an unfair formula because only 11.6% of the basic education budget is filtered through it.
Under next year’s budget plan, some local school districts will see a six-figure increase in funding. Brownsville Area School District, for instance, will see a bump of more than a half million, under the proposed plan. It’s good news for people of the district, but it only helps them recover from what he called a significant decrease the district took in basic education funding two years ago, according to the superintendent there. Ringgold and California school districts in Washington County will also see six-figure increases. Most of the other local districts will see smaller increases.
Meanwhile, five local school districts are looking down the barrel of receiving fewer dollars than they did for the 2019-20 school year. Albert Gallatin Area School District could take a cut of more than $120,000. Uniontown stands to lose more than $75,000 and Connellsville Area may possibly be straddled with the biggest loss in the county with an estimated $247,000 reduction in funding.
Jefferson-Morgan School District and West Greene School District, both in Greene County, could also lose money for next fiscal year.
There is no school district in our surrounding area that can afford to lose a penny in funding. Period.
Every single student, no matter the district or county, should have a fair opportunity at education. Absorbing costs from funding decreases forces districts to make cuts — to staff, to curriculum, to activities that could provide scholarships, to specialties that could enhance a child’s future.
When opportunities are missed, it lessens the chances of building a stronger society in future generations. It is a formula that just doesn’t work for poorer school districts.
Let’s stop playing games with our children’s future. We owe them so much more.