Education Funding Principles

With mid-term elections nearing, both candidates for governor are wrestling with how to create a better education system, including a more equitable funding system. Here are five principles any education spending solution should include.

1. Student funding, not school funding

When adopted in 2016, the fair funding formula was seen as a positive step towards fairer, student-based funding. The formula accounts for crucial factors like student poverty, English language learners, and—most importantly—enrollment trends. However, the vast majority of funding is still constrained by Pennsylvania’s “hold harmless” provision, which guarantees each district receives no fewer education dollars than it received the previous year—regardless of enrollment. As a result, shrinking schools receive more money and growing schools receive less.

It’s important to remember that education funding exists for the students. The purpose is to serve them, not the school systems in their zip codes.

2. More funding is not always better

School funding in the commonwealth and in her cities has continued to rise with no corresponding increase in quality or outcomes. The answer to school districts suing the state over an inequitable funding system is not simply more money.

For example, in the Harrisburg school district, total per-student spending is nearly $20,000–up 15 percent since 2013. Yet student safety and achievement are trending in the opposite direction. According to Pennsylvania’s Safe Schools report, incidents in Harrisburg have more than tripled in five years. Only 22 percent of Harrisburg students are proficient or better in reading, while a mere 12 percent are proficient or better in math.

3. Education choice benefits everyone

Education choice improves public schools through competition and gives underprivileged students the opportunity to thrive, rather than trapping them in schools that don’t meet their needs. Numerous studies have shown that school choice options improve academic outcomes, decrease racial segregation, promote respect for others’ rights, and reduce criminal activity.

4. Education choice saves taxpayer money

A recent analysis of 16 voucher programs nationwide shows state and local budgets saved $3.2 billion from inception to FY 2015, with $3,400 savings per voucher student. Since its inception, the EITC alone has saved Pennsylvania schools over $1 billion, according to an EdChoice report.

5. A legislative education funding solution is preferable to a judicial one

William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, before the State Supreme Court, could result in a court-mandated solution. This wouldn’t be the first time the court has ruled on a legislative matter. Consider the court-drawn congressional district map or the forced-unionization of home health care workers via executive order. The state constitution clearly states the General Assembly is tasked with maintaining and supporting the education system.

Moving forward, lawmakers can create a more equitable education system by continuing to empower parents to makes education decisions for their children via Education Savings Accounts or expanding existing choice programs like the EITC and OSTC.