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Summer 2008 Vol. 15. No. 4 Focus on Following the Money

In our opinion

Long time coming

By the Notebook on May 22, 2008 12:00 AM

Have you contacted your state legislators about the governor's education budget?

There is a lot at stake. What Gov. Rendell has put before Pennsylvania's General Assembly is not simply a one-shot boost to Philadelphia and other school systems. It's a long-overdue step toward a fair and sensible way of funding public education based on the real needs of school districts.

For nearly two decades, the state has dispensed education aid with no rhyme or reason. The current funding system is not tied to such basic factors as enrollment, local tax capacity, and student poverty. Instead, how much money a school system receives is based on how much it got the year before and on closed-door politics.

Under this flawed process, the gaps in per-pupil expenditures among districts have widened into chasms. Philadelphia now lags behind many nearby suburbs in spending by more than $4,000 per student.

The current system is both unfair and inadequate. Pennsylvania, which once carried half the total funding burden for public education costs statewide, let its contribution slip to 36 percent while leaving districts increasingly dependent on local property taxes. It now ranks in the bottom seven nationally in state share of school spending.

A study ordered by the Pennsylvania legislature and released last fall determined that 474 of 501 districts – 95 percent – fall short of the funding levels needed to help all students reach high standards. The governor responded, introducing an education budget with a funding formula that factors in poverty, limited English proficiency, and other educational needs. Over six years, he proposes to phase in a record $2.6 billion increase in state spending, with the money allocated to districts based on the size of their adequacy gap and their ability to pay for their own schools. Commendably, Mayor Nutter has been lobbying around the state to build support among elected officials for Gov. Rendell’s initiative.

Philadelphians and those in other high-need, underfunded districts like Upper Darby and William Penn have seen all too clearly the price paid for not giving students the quality education they deserve. And during the past five years, when state aid climbed more rapidly than the District’s fixed costs, Philadelphia responded with signs of improving student achievement. In short, we have seen that money matters.

So take a moment and contact your legislator today and tomorrow and the next day. Organize a group of neighbors and friends. This opportunity may not come around again.

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