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York County districts shortchanged, GOP lawmakers say
School districts in York County should have received more state education dollars as part of the 2015-16 state budget, county lawmakers said.
But they argued two different ways the districts could have seen the larger increases.
Republican Reps. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, and Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf should have used a bipartisan fair funding formula to distribute $5.9 billion for public school instruction and operations, a $200 million increase over the previous year.
The county's lone Democrat in the House, Rep. Kevin Schreiber of York City, argued the districts would have seen even greater increases if representatives had passed in December a framework budget Wolf, the Senate and House Democrats agreed to. That budget included a $350 million increase in education spending and tax hikes.
Formula: Instead of using the fair funding formula, which was created by a bipartisan commission last year, Wolf used a restoration formula. That cost districts in York County a combined $3.6 million in basic education funding they'd have received if the fair funding formula had been used in the budget that became law last month.
“All you have to do is go to Philadelphia and see where all the money went,” Grove said, referring to a list House Republicans posted that compares what districts across the state would have received under the fair funding formula to what they actually got.
Philadelphia schools got about $1 billion in basic education funding, up from the $984 million it received the previous year. If the fair funding formula had been used, the district wouldn't have received as much of an increase, according to the GOP list.
Wolf's office defended the governor's distribution method, saying districts hit hardest by budget cuts under former Gov. Tom Corbett's administration took first priority.
"“We still have a long way to go to restore the damaging cuts and to implement a fair funding formula that takes into account each district's unique needs. The new fair funding formula, which I support, cannot truly be fair unless the cuts are fully restored," Wolf said in a statement when he announced the allocations on Tuesday.
Framework budget: As part of the agreed-to framework budget, districts in the county would have seen a combined $12.2 million basic education funding increase, according to budgetary documents obtained by The York Dispatch. Districts across the county received a combined $4.6 million increase in basic education and Ready to Learn Block Grants under the budget that became law.
York City schools would have received the largest increase of just over $5 million in basic education funding for a total of $61 million, according to the documents.
But what the district ended up with was $57.4 million, a $1.2 million increase. With Ready to a Learn Block Grant factored in, city schools received a total of $59.8 million.
"It's a start. We're finally getting money out to the schools, albeit woefully late," Schreiber said.
Eric Holmes, the city school district's superintendent, said because of the uncertainty going into last year's state budget, the schools knew they might not be getting as much as Wolf had proposed. So while they hoped to get about $5.6 million more than the year before, they only budgeted for half of that, which was about what they got. Therefore, he said, nothing's changing drastically based on the new numbers.
"There will be some initiatives that we will not be able to move forward on yet," and others that might have been able to expand that now can't this year, he acknowledged, but he declined to expand on what the district would have been able to do had it received more money.
Had the state gone with the bipartisan formula, the city would have received about $700,000 more than it did. But Holmes declined to weigh in on the state-level issues such as what formula to use.
"I'm not going to get into the politics of it," he said.
Fair funding: Saylor sat on the Basic Education Funding Commission that came up with the fair funding formula. At the time, lawmakers and Wolf heralded the agreement as a way of evening out funding for districts.
The state had been basing allocations on student population numbers from the early 1990s. That meant districts that saw population decreases received more state funding than they should have while districts, such as those in York County, that saw population increases received less than they should.
The fair funding formula takes into account numerous factors, including more up-to-date population numbers. The Wolf administration has said the formula will be used as part of the 2016-17 budget.
But even if the formula is used then, districts in the county still won’t get the full amount they would have if the formula had been used with the current budget, Saylor said.
That's because the fiscal code Wolf vetoed used the 2014-15 education allocations as a baseline for the fair funding formula. If fair funding is used in the 2016-17 budget, the baseline would be this year's higher budget numbers, and that equals fewer state dollars for York County schools, he said.
“You shortchange York (County districts) this year, you short change them for years to come,” Saylor said.
— Staff writer Sean Cotter contributed to this report. Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org and Cotter at email@example.com.