POWER Statement on Recommendation of the Basic Education Funding Commission
UPDATED June 25, 2015
As representatives of POWER, we offer the following response to the report of the Basic Education Funding Commission issued on June 18, 2015. POWER is an interfaith network of congregations that intentionally brings people together across the lines of race, faith, income level and geography. We are people of faith committed to the work of bringing about justice here and now, in our city and our region and to the idea that all children in Pennsylvania should have access to a high quality public school education regardless of race, location, or income level.
We praise the Basic Education Funding Commission on its forward thinking, bipartisan proposal that has the potential to provide a quality education for every child in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by distributing basic education funds in an equitable, fair and predictable manner. We recognize that the proposed formula incorporates a wide range of factors, which, if fully implemented, would eliminate the huge disparities in education funding that currently exist, including the racial disparities in funding that have existed historically in the Commonwealth.
HOWEVER, we are deeply troubled by a generally acknowledged understanding that the formula will only be applied to new monies allocated in addition to the current education budget. If this excellent formula is applied to only a small percentage of the overall proposed state spending for basic education — 7% the first year and a maximum of 26% by year five – it will perpetuate the status quo for years to come and can do little to impact the inequities of the current budget. We are particularly concerned about the racial disparities in current funding which our analysis of the data reveals and which the proposed formula can eliminate if applied to all of the money.
We understand, as the Commission points out in the report, that applying the formula all at once to all of the money would place a large burden on some school districts and would support a plan to transition to using the formula to determine all funding for each district in the Commonwealth over a period of time, one of the solutions that members of the Commission have themselves offered.
But this is only a problem if the total funding available is too small. If the size of the overall budget grows substantially, to a level that is sufficient to fund all districts adequately, then it is possible to avoid funding decreases for any district and still achieve more equitable funding. We cannot pretend that putting great effort into creating a fair formula and then applying it to small percentages as opposed to overall, adequate funding is an acceptable solution to providing state funding that will ensure EACH of Pennsylvania’s children gets a sound education.
How much would total funding need to increase to achieve adequacy? Since the Commission did not answer this question, POWER stands behind the recommendation of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, whose study earlier this year determined that a total budget of $9.3B, an increase of $3.6B over the current year’s budget of $5.7M, would be required to achieve adequate funding for all districts. These levels of funding can indeed be reached without disproporionately burdening Pennsylvania’s families if we transform our income and corporate tax system to we bring in enough revenue for schools.
The failure to create a fair system of education funding is not just a financial issue; it also a moral issue. As the Commission’s report notes, the Pennsylvania Constitution calls for the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” In the spirit of these words we call upon the legislators of the Commonwealth to recognize that the provision of a quality public education citizen is both their legislative and moral responsibility.
THEREFORE we urge that members of both legislative bodies commit to reaching adequate overall funding as soon as possible, and that until adequate funding is reached, new dollars are distributed according to the formula proposed by the Basic Education Commission only to districts still below adequacy, and not to districts already receiving adequate funding.
Funding for public education across the state will not be full and fair until it applies to the entire – and fully funded – education budget for all children in all locations. The members of Commission have set out in the right direction; we now urge them to complete the job they started so that EVERY CHILD in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can be assured of a fully funded, quality public education.
About POWER: POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild) represents congregations from across the Philadelphia region, bringing people together across the lines of race, faith, income level and neighborhood — lines that have historically kept our city and state divided. POWER is committed to the work of bringing about justice here and now and seeks to exercise power in the public arena by strengthening and mobilizing our networks, so that the needs and priorities of all Philadelphians are reflected in the systems and policies that shape our city. POWER is nonpartisan and is not aligned explicitly or implicitly with any candidate or party. We do not endorse or support candidates for office. Learn more at www.powerphiladelphia.org.