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Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett: School funding must be fair

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By Megan Harris
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday said Pennsylvania's school funding systems should be changed to “a true funding system” that is fair to all schools.

Some educators and policy experts questioned why Corbett waited until an election year to seek a fairer way to distribute education funding.

“The funding formula is outdated and needs to be fully reviewed due to the changing demographics of Pennsylvania's public schools,” education department spokesman Tim Eller wrote in an email.

Eller said the governor supports House Bill 1738, pending in the Senate, which would establish a commission to study and recommend a more equitable way to distribute the state's education budget.

“If it takes an election to drive a funding formula, then so be it,” said Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which represents 42 school districts. “For us to have a funding formula that's not subject to a political group or person or where the district happens to be located — well, that would be fabulous.”

Eller did not directly respond to a question about whether Corbett's support for a new funding formal was politically motivated. Corbett is running for re-election.

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers union President Nina Esposito-Visgitis expressed frustration.

“We've always welcomed the opportunity to have a real dialogue about fair funding, and where has he been?” she said.

If the legislation passes, the commission would recommend a formula within a year, which then requires House and Senate approval.

Most states set a per-pupil base amount multiplied by varying amounts based on economic factors and for students who are learning English; living in poverty or foster care; pregnant or parenting; are deemed neglected or delinquent; attend small or rural schools; or have disabilities.

“That sounds like something we need,” said Kathy M. Newman, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and parent of two Pittsburgh Linden K-5 students. “Gov. Corbett cut quite a bit from our schools. If he's realizing now that that's a problem, that's great, but I'm definitely looking at other candidates for governor with an eye toward their plans for education.”

Polls indicate the governor is vulnerable on issues pertaining to education, said Ron Cowell, a former House member and president of the Harrisburg-based Education Policy and Leadership Center, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“I don't think the needs of students, let alone taxpayers, will be satisfied by creating a commission if it's not accompanied by real action and new money,” Cowell said.

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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