At symposium, a call for state education funding formula
If the Pennsylvania Legislature had not scrapped a statewide education-funding formula in 2011 it had approved three years earlier, the Philadelphia School District would have received $360 million more in state aid this year and would not be in a fiscal crisis now, an expert said Wednesday.
Instead of facing the $304 million deficit that led to the layoff of thousands of employees in June, Philadelphia's schools "would be beginning to get back into the game," John Myers, a national school-funding consultant involved in creating Pennsylvania's 2008 formula, said at a school-funding symposium.
The City Hall event was hosted by the Mayor's Office of Education and the Education Law Center in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and Education Voters Pennsylvania.
Organizers said the program was an important first step in a campaign to increase the state's share of education funding and to develop a new, fair way to distribute it to districts across Pennsylvania that considers students' needs.
"This is a statewide issue that cannot be resolved without a statewide solution," said Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the Education Law Center, the moderator.
The program drew Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., Mayor Nutter, and about 150 educators, education advocates, parents, business leaders, politicians, and representatives from nonprofits for what Lori Shorr, Nutter's education secretary, described as a "graduate course in education funding 101."
Panelists reviewed the state's recent history of education funding. They also heard about the approach New Jersey uses to support its schools, which provides more state money for low-income districts. Pennsylvania districts with large numbers of low-income students, by contrast, received deeper cuts in state support starting in 2011 than more affluent districts.
The funding formula was removed from state law when Gov. Corbett took office in 2011, amid the lingering effects of the recession. Pennsylvania is now one of only three states in the country without such a formula.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D., Phila.), who spoke at the end, recalled that the discarded funding formula and increases in state aid had improved student performance across the state.
He said audience members should ask every candidate who says he or she wants to replace Corbett as governor: "What the X are you going to do about this issue, all right? You can have any formula you want, but if you put no money into it, it doesn't work."
Hughes added: "If anybody even thinks about voting for Tom Corbett, get out of the room. . . . He's the one who caused this hell we're going through right now."
Nutter gently chided Hughes, reminding him that the event was nonpartisan.
"You asked me to speak," Hughes said.
The program took place exactly 30 days after city students returned to class.
Although 1,649 of the 3,783 employees laid off in June have been recalled, the cutbacks have had devastating consequences.
The 134,000 students at the district's 212 schools are dealing with larger class sizes and fewer teachers, counselors, administrators, and aides. They also are grappling with severe shortages of resources, including books and paper.
The district, which still has a $220 million deficit, is seeking $103 million in savings from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The district also wants concessions that meet the state's conditions for reform to obtain a $45 million grant.