Eric Boehm on the new ELC report:
The Education Law Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that advocates for more equitable education funding, published a report on Tuesday calling for the restoration of a state-level educational funding formula along the lines of the one discontinued by the Corbett administration. The group said Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not use a formula to determine basic education funding.
The new report calls for Pennsylvania to adopt an education funding formula that reflects accuracy, fairness, and transparency and takes into account student enrollment totals.
“In other words, is the right amount of money going to the right place — and can legislators and the public see it? In Pennsylvania, the current answer is no,” said Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the Education Law Center.
Across all districts, 53 percent of education spending in Pennsylvania comes from local funding sources, while the state picks up the tab for 36 percent and the federal government kicks in 11 percent.
But there is significant variance among districts, thanks in part to a decades-old state provision known as “hold harmless” that makes it difficult for the state to shift dollars into districts with expanding populations from districts where student enrollment is shrinking.
We’ve covered how the current state funding distribution perpetuates racial inequality, and how Tom Corbett made a conscious choice to go back to distributing the money this way, quietly rolling back Rendell-era reforms.
I would also add that the “hold harmless” law leads to perverse land use and development choices. Growing districts are punished by the current approach and shrinking districts are rewarded. Consequently, any time local politicians are inclined to make pro-growth land use and development choices that would grow the local population, there’s inevitable pushback from people understandably worried that more growth will lead to more families moving in, sending their school taxes soaring.
This is nuts. The state needs to reward local governments who want to grow their populations, not punish them.