Gov. Corbett's education budget proposal includes welcome increases for special education and early learning but ignores the need for a stable and comprehensive approach to education funding.
Special education funding proposal recognizes the importance of a formula
Gov. Corbett's education budget proposal adds $20 million in new resources for special education funding, and envisions distributing those resources through a new funding formula as recommended by the Special Education Funding Commission.
Details of that formula have not yet been released but the funding increase and intent to use a formula that takes into account student differences and district differences is a step in the right direction.
While the proposed increase to the Special Ed line item is welcome, it is long overdue. The state's contribution to special education has remained unchanged for six years, despite rapidly rising costs. Local districts have had to fill the funding gaps left by the state's lack of support, and many, who often serve the most vulnerable children, are struggling to meet that burden. Continuing state investments to special education distributed through a fair formula are necessary to address the remaining gaps.
Early childhood funding is prioritized
The governor's proposal to invest $10 million in PreK Counts and provide additional funding to the state's Early Intervention program is encouraging and matches a nationwide initiative to improve early learning opportunities for all children, particularly the most vulnerable.
However, there's a disconnect between the renewed investments in early childhood learning and the lack of investments at the K-12 level. The potential early learning gains for students will quickly disappear if their schools lack fundamental resources and supports, are overcrowded, in disrepair, lack libraries, counselors, nurses, adequate teaching staff, and other necessary student supports.
Basic education funding is missing
There is no proposed increase to the state's Basic Education Funding line item, an essential funding source for all K-12 public school students.
Instead, the governor has followed a familiar script: Tying his funding proposal ($241 million) to special grants and as-yet-realized sources of revenue, such as last year's proposal to put anticipated liquor store privatization dollars into schools.
The proposal gets one thing right: It recognizes that different students require different amounts of resources, and attempts to direct funding based on that principle.
However, as we've seen in recent budgets, applying the principle selectively-whether to a handful of specially selected school districts, as the General Assembly did last year, or to a one-time, overly prescriptive block grant as currently proposed-does not address the underlying, systemic inequities in Pennsylvania's flawed approach to public school funding.
What's necessary for Pennsylvania is a stable and fair system-one that applies to all public schools throughout the Commonwealth, is based on accurate student and community data, and distributes a significant portion of the state's K-12 education funding through a transparent formula.
There is a real resource crisis in many of our schools and one that cannot be solved by band aid solutions that sidestep the problem.
The governor and the General Assembly must address basic education funding the same way the lawmakers addressed special education funding-directly, in a bi-partisan manner-not through limited, one-time programs.
The Education Law Center is a statewide, non-profit legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all of Pennsylvania children have access to a quality public education. Brett Schaeffer is ELC's Communications Director. A former education reporter, Schaeffer handles education policy analysis, communications, and advocacy for the organization.