Survey of PA’s education leaders shows need to fix way state supports schools
● By ACL
School administrators, board members and school business officials believe predictability is needed in education funding, and school funding levels statewide are currently inadequate. They also identified factors to include in a fair, state public school funding formula according to survey responses from nearly 600 of Pennsylvania’s education leaders.
The two-week online survey was conducted in February and reflects the perspectives of on-the-ground level educators supporting teachers and students in schools throughout Pennsylvania. The survey was emailed to members of the state’s major education leadership associations, including: Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the Central Pennsylvania Education Coalition.
Survey findings included:
• Almost nine in 10 school leaders (88.9%) said “Predictability” is “Very Important” when estimating the amount of state funds their district will receive annually.
With the exception of a three-year period (school years 2008-2009 through 2010-2011), Pennsylvania has not used an annually and consistently applied public school funding formula to distribute basic education funds to all its school districts in more than two decades. Instead, the General Assembly determines how to distribute any new funding to school districts each year as part of the state budget process.
• Three quarters (75.5%) of school leaders said the right level of state funding for public schools would make up 40-60 percent of district budgets, and 14.5% of these educators said they should receive more than 60% of their funds from the state.
State funding is about 35 percent of the current mix of funds, including federal (11%) and local funds (54%) that support Pennsylvania’s public schools. The national average of state funding for public schools is about 49%.
• Nearly half of school leaders (48%) said state funds were in the 20-40 percent range within their district budgets, while nearly a quarter (21.7%) of school leaders said state funds are “less than 20 percent” of their district budgets.
• Nearly two thirds (62.2%) of school leaders said they believe “Local Tax Effort Compared To Districts With Similar Wealth” should be a factor used by the state to determine the level of state education funding provided to each school district. One in five (19.7%) said this issue was of average importance, 14.5% identified it as unimportant.
• When asked what other factors should be included in a public school state funding formula:
Nearly eight in 10 school leaders (78.1%) said “population of economically disadvantaged students”;
Nearly three quarters (72.6%) chose district enrollment;
More than two thirds (67.2%) would include district aid Ratio”;
60.2% would include “District Personal Income"; and
Half (50.3%) would include charter school enrollment.
Responses were received from 598 superintendents, school board members, business managers and other school administrators with the vast majority identifying their districts as located in rural (52 %) and suburban areas (40%).
The district enrollment sizes of survey respondents range between 200-999 students (12.5 percent) and more than 15,000 (five districts, less than one percent of survey responses).
The majority of survey respondents lead school districts with enrollments of between 1,000-1,999 students (28.3%) and 2,000-3,499 students (26.8%). The range of respondents, based on the enrollment size, mirrors the state’s actual distribution of school districts.