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Chester County Press

Pa. education funding system doesn’t make the grade

Our local school districts are in the process of preparing and unveiling their preliminary budgets for the 2024-2025 school year.

In four months, when school districts will be finalizing these spending plans for the next fiscal year, it’s very likely that most of them will include tax increases to balance the budgets.

The Kennett Consolidated School District, for example, revealed its preliminary budget earlier this month with a tax increase well in excess of 4 percent. That increase should be smaller by the time the final budget is adopted, but don’t count on Kennett or other Pennsylvania school districts to be able to balance their growing budgets without a tax increase.

Until the state takes steps to provide more adequate funding for schools, the burden will continue to be shouldered by local taxpayers.

At one time, the state funded about 50 percent of all education costs. Pennsylvania was not alone in doing this. Most states funded at the 50 percent level or above. Most still do. However, in Pennsylvania, the percentage of overall funding that the state provides to its school districts is now nowhere near 50 percent. That means that a greater burden falls to local taxpayers.

We’re fortunate to have some of the best schools in the state here in Chester County and overall the schools here are above average when compared to schools across the state, but the above-average results come with above-average costs.

On Jan. 11, the Basic Education Funding Commission held a hearing and voted 8-7 to approve the 2024 Basic Education Funding Report. The report offered some recommendations to help build a more equitable system of funding public schools. These recommendations included a significant increase in basic education funding so that all schools are more equitably funded. The report also calls for investments in school facilities, the education workforce, and in student supports.

The report reaffirms the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court’s decision in William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, et al., a ruling that determined that Pennsylvania’s current system of funding public education is unconstitutional.

Under the current system of education funding, a school district like Oxford can spend tens of millions of dollars less than neighboring school districts—but the tax burden on Oxford residents can still be greater than on those residents in neighboring districts.

Pennsylvania needs to find a more equitable way to allocate funding to public schools, and it also needs to have an education funding system that makes the grade.