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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rendell School Funding Unfair To Rural Schools

Governor's Education Funding Plan Unfair, Unaffordable

By Rep. Martin Causer

Of the billions of dollars spent in the annual state budget, no investment is more important than the one we make in our children. That’s why I am deeply concerned about the governor’s education funding proposal.

It’s a six-year, $2.6 billion proposal with no clear source of funding to pay for it. That is simply irresponsible given the economic challenges we face as individuals and as a Commonwealth. One little-known fact of the governor’s plan is that he expects the state’s school districts to ante up an additional $2 billion in order to meet an alleged $4.6 billion funding gap in basic education funding.

How many taxpayers can afford higher state AND school taxes right now? Yes, we have a responsibility to adequately fund our schools, but we also have a responsibility to adopt a balanced budget that does not place an undue burden on our citizens.

Few would argue the need to revamp our school funding formula in Pennsylvania. In fact, the General Assembly commissioned a costing-out study to help us develop that new formula. The governor says his plan represents a new formula, but all it really does is hand out most of the money ($4.9 billion of the total $5.2 billion) according to the old formula and then drive most of the new, additional money to urban districts, including his beloved Philadelphia School District.

Under the governor’s proposal, Philadelphia – which received nearly $900 million in the 2007-08 state budget – is pegged to receive an additional $85 million in funding next year, an increase of nearly 10 percent. And by the end of his six-year plan, the district will receive an additional $638 million, or 72 percent more. To help put that in perspective, the 11 school districts in my legislative district collectively received $67 million in state funding in 2007-08.

Also telling is that, over the six years of the governor’s plan, the Philadelphia School District is slated to receive nearly one-quarter of the projected new money, yet it educates – or at least attempts to educate – just 11 percent of the state’s students.

Rural and even some suburban school districts don’t fare nearly as well under the governor’s plan. Yes, Philadelphia has more students and faces many unique challenges, but rural schools like ours do have substantial costs in the areas of health benefits, energy costs (for transportation and for heat), and food costs. The governor’s alleged “formula” takes none of this into consideration.

While the Bradford Area School District fares well under the plan, with a 6 percent funding increase this year and 47 percent more by 2014, many other districts in our area will get the statewide minimum 1.5 percent increase in funding this year.

Faring worst in the six-year program is the Galeton Area School District, which is slated to receive just 2 percent more funding by 2014 than it has today. That equates to just $39,000 more over six years; rising energy costs alone will far exceed that amount.

I want the Bradford Area School District to have the resources it needs to educate its students, but I want the same for the rest of the kids in our area and across the state. We need a new formula to fund our schools, but it must be fair and it must be affordable for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

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