Gov. Wolf signs fair funding formula

Alyssa Pressler
  • Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1552 on Thursday
  • This bill will establish a more equitable way to distribute school funds in Pennsylvania.
  • This bill will establish emergency funds for two financially distressed school districts

House Bill 1552 only sat on Gov. Tom Wolf's desk for about a week before he signed it into law Thursday.

The law will establish a fair funding formula. Until the law, there was no effective formula for distributing funds.

In this file photo, state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, right, opens a roundtable discussion May 12, 2016, with Gov. Tom Wolf to discuss the heroin crisis.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Instead, the state has operated on a "hold-harmless" policy, which was put into place in 1991. The policy gives each district a funding increase of 2 percent each year but did not take into account population changes that area schools have experienced in recent years.

The law also provides emergency funds to two of the commonwealth's distressed school districts: $3 million for Wilkinsburg in Allegheny County and $12 million for Chester Upland in Delaware County.

York City schools, in particular, have experienced an increase in students, but Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, argued that funds haven't been increased proportionally for those schools.

"I'm really happy," Schreiber said Thursday. "This is long overdue, a very necessary change to the fair funding formula. This is one of the measures that will help ensure that York County school districts will get their fair share of the education funding pie."

The law will take effect immediately and will be applied to the budgets that school districts decide on in the coming weeks for the next academic year. The law will take into account the wealth of each school district, current tax efforts by the districts and the current population.

The law also has weighted formulas for student-based factors, such as the number of students who live in poverty, who are learning English as a second language and who attend a charter school.

Michele Merkle, superintendent of the York Suburban School District, said that these measures will particularly help her schools.

File photo of Gov. Tom Wolf.

"The previous formula was based on old data, and York Suburban has grown significantly," Merkle said. "We have also changed our demographics significantly, and we have a much-needier population. We will now be supported financially for that, where for years that has not been considered for our funding."

Supporters of the law hope this will ensure that funding is fairly and equitably distributed, though Michael Thew, acting assistant superintendent for York City School District and a circuit writer for the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, explained that it will take some time for funding to be completely equal.

"It will take some time to even things out, because unfortunately one thing the formula didn't figure out was the revenue sources," Thew explained. "It's a great formula, but it needs the revenue to be effective and positive."

The funding of the formula is something that has worried many officials, particularly with the recent funding impasse that affected many schools. In addition, former Gov. Tom Corbett slashed funding for education by $1 billion, which has set back school districts that were unable to make up the funding through taxes.

Though many agree that the formula is a huge step in the right direction, there is some anxiety about how it will be sustainable. Wolf said in a news release that he is committed to continuing his work on these issues.

"I look forward to continuing to work with leaders in the coming weeks to further address our challenges and reach agreement on a budget that is balanced, fixes the deficit and further invests in education at all levels," Wolf said in the release. "We still have a lot of work to do in order to restore funding, but we are now closer to resolving the inequity in Pennsylvania’s school funding distribution."