BASIC EDUCATION FUNDING COMMISSION
In early 2023, the Commonwealth Court determined that Pennsylvania’s school funding system does not meet the requirements of the state Constitution and must be overhauled. The Court found that poor school districts did not have the resources they need to educate their students, despite having higher than average property taxes and that the General Assembly had the responsibility to provide for equitable and adequate funding for all public schools. The Court also found that all students can learn and should have access to a system of public education that is comprehensive, effective and contemporary.
The 2023 Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC), established by the General Assembly, will continue its work this fall with a series of hearings where it will gather testimony from educators and education policy experts. An important part of that work is to develop a plan to ensure that public education is adequately and equitably funded in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, in accordance with the Court’s decision. Governor Shapiro made it clear in his budget address in March that the General Assembly should get to work. Saying:
“[The judge’s] remedy was for us to get around the table and come up with a solution that ensures every child has access to a thorough and efficient education.”
– Josh Shapiro, 2023 Budget Address, March 7, 2023
The BEFC is the table he is referring to.
To fulfill the Court’s mandate, the BEFC must not only review the distribution of funding via the Fair Funding Formula, but also identify how much each district needs for the state to meet its constitutional obligation that every student receives a “meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically.”
Years of underfunding have set districts in all corners of the state back – rural, urban, and suburban districts alike have been unable to meet their obligations to PA students and families. This underfunding results in larger class sizes, outdated curricula, outdated and crumbling school facilities, fewer teachers and support staff, and administrators left scrambling to make ends meet for their students.
The BEFC must identify the steps needed to ensure our public schools will, in the very near future, give every child the public education they are entitled to. Failing to address the larger questions would not only fail to meet our moral and constitutional obligations but would be a dereliction of duty that betrays our children.
Without a clear and thorough calculation of how much each school district needs to meet the constitutional obligation to our students (known as adequacy targets), the BEFC will fail in its task.
PA School Work has identified four priorities for the BEFC to address in its final report, which is due on January 11, 2024:
- Determine the total cost to meet the constitutional standard. This is accomplished by establishing a meaningful adequacy target for each school district as part of the formula that determines how much each district needs to provide its children with a comprehensive, effective, contemporary education, and how the funds will be distributed to the districts.
- Calculate funding targets that also address unmet needs beyond K-12 basic education funding that were identified by the Court as critical to ensuring meaningful opportunities for all PA public school students, such as facilities, special education, and pre-K.
- Ensure that the state meets its constitutional obligation by establishing a fair and equitable “state share” for those targets so that low-wealth school districts can reach adequate funding at a reasonable tax effort.
- Create a plan, with a reasonable timeline, for the state to meet its share of those targets – a roadmap for the governor and state legislature to meet their constitutional mandate.
WHAT IS THE BASIC EDUCATION FUNDING COMMISSION?
Per Section 123(k) of the Public School Code, the 2023 BEFC is charged with reviewing the distribution of state funding for basic education to Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts and providing a report of its findings to the General Assembly by November 30, 2023.
In 2016, the General Assembly enacted the basic education funding formula recommended by the original BEFC. That formula looks at the student population in each school district, its size and its ability to raise taxes locally to determine each school district’s fair share of funds that the General Assembly distributes through the formula. The original BEFC’s formula has been in effect for eight fiscal years with only minor adjustments.
The BEFC is a 15-member group consisting of three members from each legislative caucus and three members of the administration.
(Deputy Secretary, PDE’s Office of Administration; designee of PDE Secretary)
(PDE Executive Deputy Secretary; designee of PDE Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education)
(Director of the Bureau of Budget Analysis, Governor’s Budget Office)
Watch the recording of the Zoom Meeting here.
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