Editorial: Funding changes need public consideration

By The Pitt News Editorial Staff

The state education budget has been divided between school districts based on a formula established in 2010. Now, Gov. Tom Corbett is seeking a fairer way to distribute the funding.

On Jan. 22, Corbett announced that he’s attempting to seek a more equitable way of distributing the state budget for public education. Education Department spokesman Tim Eller elaborated on Corbett’s statements, saying that the current formula used to distribute funding is outdated.

Currently, House Bill 1738 in the State Senate, if passed, will create a team focused on creating a more equal way to distribute the state education budget. But a single group of people will not be enough to create a new system for fairly distributing funding for public school districts. Instead, this team should hold regional forums with school officials and parents in order to develop a fairer way of dividing the budget.

As it stands, the Pennsylvania state budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year is more than $5.5 billion. The Basic Education Funding is divided based on a series of calculations. 

The base amount for each school district is found by calculating a series of supplements, or amounts of supplementary funding to be given to a district based on different factors, such as a base supplement, English language learner supplement, poverty supplement and district size supplement, and then adding all of them together.

From there, this sum is multiplied by the state share factor for the fiscal year. Increases in the budget are distributed based on calculations from factors such as a student-focused funding supplement,  a high concentration of English-language learners and a small school district supplement.

Corbett’s plan looks and sounds good, and it will be the right move if it comes to fruition. However, both the governor and the consulting team he puts together need to be proactive in making these changes. It would be irresponsible to give power solely to districts or regional governments to make determinations about how much districts receive since obvious biases exist, but there still needs to be input at the local level.

Relying on one group of people is not enough to determine how to distribute funding for public education. Instead, this group should hold public forums regionally with school districts in order to hear opinions from teachers and parents on how to better allocate the money. 

The current allocation and state budget numbers should be released to the public in order to make this process more transparent. The public forums should be made accessible to the public and publicized through PTA meetings and letters sent home with students in order to ensure attendance from a diverse group of parents and teachers.

Determining a new way to distribute the state education budget will take more than just a few isolated people looking at the numbers. It requires ideas and opinions from a broad range of parents and teachers in order to make Corbett’s plan successful.