Can Pennsylvania ever really fix the school funding formula?

September 7 – Around this time every year, the state of Pennsylvania is usually late for producing a budget for the next year. 

And one major issue with the state budget is our local schools. 

School budgets are due before the PA budget. How can the schools know what to budget for if they don’t know what they’ll be getting from the state? 

How can the state really do a budget if school districts have already budgeted for a certain allowance? 

And ultimately, how on earth does this make any sense? 

Attorney Clint Barkdoll said, “Year after year we have the scenario that by June 30 the local school districts pass their budgets. They have to by law, maximum tax increases to the extent that they don’t have to put it on the ballot and then the state does its allocation several weeks later. The state goes past that deadline and what we see year after year after year, the state allocation exceeds the projections that the local school districts had already budgeted and had already factored in a maximum tax increase. The easy solution to this would be to change the school code to say school districts don’t adopt their budget until after the state of Pennsylvania has passed its budget. I think collectively, it would save billions and billions of dollars in local school taxes. But for whatever reason, the General Assembly seems to have no interest in taking this up.”

PA Representative Rob Kauffman said, “Actually, it is a good idea. It’s something that we’ve talked about in Harrisburg. There has been Republican legislation over the years to do so. I looked at it and there is a Democrat who has a bill sponsored. They push it back one month to the end of July in the legislation. Here’s where I think it stalls because I believe the public education establishment likes the status quo. Yes, I’ll hear from a school director here and there who says hey, why do we have to do this? You know, diligent school directors who say why do we have to do this when you guys aren’t done yet? But in reality, in general, I hate generalization, but that’s what it is in 501 school districts, you have the public education establishment, the business officers, the superintendents, the School Boards Association, the teachers union, they like the status quo. They get it done, then they use the rest of the summer to plan for the new school year. They may also believe it serves their advantage fiscally as well because this is what happens. They pass a budget and then they always get more money than they had anticipated, so to speak. But the reality is they always know they’re likely getting more money than they anticipate, but in the end, it ends up being a windfall to them.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM asked, “Who can change the dynamics on this? If you have a way of saving the taxpayer money and you work for me, thank you, if it’s a hostage crisis, again from these unions or they’re just so damn greedy and you’re doing such a poor job with the amount of money you have here, who can move this again? Bipartisan?”

Kauffman said, “A Democrat is sponsoring the bill to move it by a month. Is a month the answer? I mean, it’s not going to be the panacea, but it will be an improvement.”

Ryan pointed out, “This is where elections have consequences. You want to save some money, you’re bleeding money all over the place in Pennsylvania. Here’s a simple place for you to save some money and yet, you are being pushed around by the people that are in the education system that find it very convenient to take and take more and do less and inefficiently.”

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM added, “The sad thing is, we know we’ve got historic education money. We’re going to get another huge boost in this budget if it goes through the way as planned, which looks like it’s going to, but that extra money never seems to translate to better results for the kids. More reading, more ability to do math, more ability to think and have real ideas. It doesn’t transfer.”

Kauffman said, “As you look at what’s happening this summer with the House Democrats’ majority around the state, they’re talking about more education funding on top of the almost billion dollars additional this year. It’s more education funding, of course, because the Supreme Court said we don’t fund education equitably across Pennsylvania.”

“Equitable doesn’t mean what people think it means,” Jansen concluded.