The first thing Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro talked about in his budget address on Tuesday was education. It also received the biggest leap in a proposed funding increase.

 
Shapiro allocated over $1.8 billion in new funds for education.
 

Public school advocates are celebrating the sum, but are especially mindful of how out of that, $1.1 billion was set for the Basic Education Fund. Broken down even further, $900 million will funnel into a new adequacy investment fund.

“He actually tried to calculate what students need," said Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, a senior attorney with Public Interest Law Center.

The adequacy investment is in direct response to a Commonwealth Court ruling from last February 7. So supporters spent yesterday celebrating the budget address and the one year anniversary of the ruling.

The ruling itself said Pennsylvania's reliance on property tax to fund school districts is unconstitutional.

"The Governor yesterday is he actually put on the Pennsylvania Department of Education's website, a spreadsheet where you can go see- how much is your school underfunded by?"

Click here to visit the DOE's website. Under the 'Basic Education Funding' paragraph, click the '2024/25 Proposed Basic Education Funding' excel sheet.

Other initiatives with fund increases included $300 million towards school building repairs (fix the lead, mold, lack of AC, etc.), $50 million towards special education, $50 million towards school safety, $20 million for recruiting and training professionals, and $3 million to provide period products.

 

Elected Official Responses

Democrats praised the fund increases.

“As a teacher, we have to fund our public schools," said Rep. Bob Merski (D-02). "Cause when we fund our public schools at the state level, that means folks property taxes don’t go up for school taxes. And I think that’s the thing I’m hearing most back home, I that property tax is very high.”

Republicans say money is not the only answer to education issues.

“When you look at the amount of spending, the increase they they have in education, we also need to look at ways we can reform education and make sure our kids are actually getting the education they need,” said Rep. Clint Owlett (R-68).

"When we look at what he’s proposing in higher education, where it’s performance based and we’re looking at outcomes," said Owlett, "if it works for higher education why doesn’t it work for k-12 as well.”

 

Current Education Funding Process

The Commonwealth Foundation, a supporter of school choice vouchers like Lifeline Scholarships, pointed out how most Basic Education Funds (BEF) are distributed according to old status quos instead of the newer Fair Funding Formula.

“It’s really important to understand that the court ruling was about the inequities in the system, not simply about more money," said Nathan Benefield, Senior Vice President of Commonwealth Foundation.

The Fair Funding Formula was introduced in 2014. It assigned each school district a percentage of the BEF based on metrics like student population, income levels, and property tax.

When it was established, the Commonwealth said school districts would get whatever money they got from the Basic Education Fund in 2014, and then new revenue would be distributed according to the Fair Funding Formula every year following.

That system was set up to give stability to districts who previously got lots of money, but now under the new formula would receive significantly fewer funds.

Below is a chart showing how Basic Education Funds have been distributed since 2014.

A chart from the Basic Education Funding Commission Majority Report published on January 11, 2024.

 

"While he proposes billions more in funding for public schools, he doesn't want to put all the money through the funding formula," said Benefield on Shapiro's address.

The Basic Education Funding Commission's Majority Report says that the current formula does not include a 'base cost per student', which is the foundation of it's adequacy requirement. The Report says successful districts spend around $13,000 on each student.

As appropriation hearings begin, legislators will have more time to study the new adequacy supplement the Governor included in this budget and how it relates to the current formula.

 

Lack of School Choice

While Shapiro mentioned school choice funding initiatives in his address, the budget itself does not include any line specific items for a topic that has become a sticking point for the Pennsylvania GOP.

Republicans say school choice is a chance for students to personalize education and/or escape failing schools.

"The goal is that every student has the opportunity to succeed," said Benefield. "You can’t have the opportunity to succeeded if the only option available to you is one school, a failing option that is assigned to you based on your zip code.”

Democrats say the solution is transforming failing schools.

“We know what children need," said Urevick-Ackelsberg. "What children need are counselors, and small class sizes, and reading instruction. Those are the things that are missing from our schools because we don’t fund them.”

Education in this year's budget will require compromise from both parties. The goal is to give an honest analysis. How the state can spend the money it has better? And how much more do we need to offset the property tax burden on Pennsylvanians?