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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania adopts new education funding formula

| Thursday, June 2, 2016, 11:33 a.m.

Pennsylvania has a new formula to pay for basic education that will more fairly distribute money to school districts based on their unique needs.

The formula — something lawmakers have squabbled over for years — will determine how the state divvies up about $5.5 billion in basic education funding each year, taking into account such factors as the number of students in poverty, the district's wealth and ability to raise revenue and the number of students who speak English or attend charter schools.

“We still have a lot of work to do in order to restore funding, but we are now closer to resolving the inequity in Pennsylvania's school funding distribution,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement.

Advocacy groups praised the adoption of the formula but say it will only help districts if the state pumps more money into education.

“We feel it's a big step and an important step,” said Charlie Lyons, spokesman for the Campaign for Fair Education Funding. “But we do believe that the formula's only going to be effective if you have sufficient dollars running through it.”

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding, made up of more than 50 community organizations and education advocacy groups across the state, asked legislators to provide nearly $400 million in additional funding for the 2016-17 year, Lyons said.

“That would be a second strong step,” he said.

Wolf said he hopes to include more education funding in next year's budget, in addition to the $200 million increase in the 2015-16 plan.

Last year's budget was delayed nine months and became law in March when Wolf allowed a supplemental bill to pass without his signature. But he vetoed the state fiscal code, a companion bill that set funding formulas.

The “Fair Funding Formula” was initially proposed in June 2015 by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission, a 15-member board that included lawmakers and members of Wolf's administration. The commission took more than a year to come up with the proposed plan. The bill passed in the state legislature last week and officially became law with Wolf's signature Thursday.

In addition to changing how education money is distributed among 500 school districts, the formula provides for the release of $3 million in emergency funds to the Wilkinsburg School District and $12 million to the Chester Upland district in Delaware County.

Elizabeth Behrman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7886 or Lbehrman@tribweb.com.

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