How to fund Pennsylvania’s schools is a hot topic. The state’s Basic Education Commission is traveling the Commonwealth to hear from stakeholders as it drafts a new formula for distributing state education aid.
The state funnels more than $5 billion annually to 500 school districts, but its methods have been widely criticized as unfair. That’s why the 15-member panel was established last summer.
A hearing held at Central Montco Technical High School in Montgomery County this week focused on career and technical schools.
Commission co-chair state Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montgomery County) is an alumnus of the the host school. He said the panel initially forgot about career and technical schools.
“We got so far into this — debating the charters, cyber charters, public school funding, poverty —we actually didn’t realize we had forgotten vocational education,” he said. “We think that is certainly an important role.”
The traveling, he noted, has given the members snapshots into different sections of the Commonwealth.
“Each time we dig, we find something else that needs to be addressed and that’s the great thing about this commission and its work,” he says. “We’re doing that to make sure we’ve uncovered every stone and every possible problem in education.”
Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not have a formula for distributing state funding to school districts, according to a report by the Education Law Center.
The panel consists of six House members, six Senate members and three members of the Governor’s Administration, including Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera.
He says career and technical education is a priority for the Governor Tom Wolf’s office.
“It’s not just about preparation and going to four-year colleges, but ensuring that kids are prepared to be successful in life,” Vereb said. “And career and technical education are a big component of that.”
Before the hearing, Public Citizens for Children and Youth held a press conference outside to stress the importance of fair formula. Shirlee Howe, a mother with three children in Lower Merion School District, spoke about local districts taxes being raised due to lack of school state funding.
State Sen. Pat Browne, panel co-chair, said the group has heard similiar concerns at its 14 hearings.
“Even though the state is very diverse. We’re hearing about a lot of common elements,” Browne said. “The recognition that a school district that has a student who chooses a charter, it may be important for us to accommodate that in the formula, so the finances of that choice don’t inhibit the choice itself.”
He said the panel is talking about reinstating the line item that would allow school districts to be reimbursed for students attending charters in their formula.
The Commission will hold a hearing in Dauphin County later this month before making its recommendation — due by June — to the Legislature.