By an 8-7 vote, the Basic Education Funding Commission (BEF) adopted a Democratic-backed report that addresses the Commonwealth Court decision in William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al.
In that case, Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer found that the General Assembly has failed to meet our constitutional duty to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education” by both underfunding and unfairly funding public schools across Pennsylvania.
The adopted report suggests an adequacy gap – or the gap between rich and poor school districts – of $5.4 billion in K-12 funding, about $800 million less than that suggested by the plaintiffs in the school funding lawsuit. The report does say that the state is on the hook for 95 percent of that funding.
The 2023 reconstituted BEFC report made the following recommendations to the Governor, General Assembly, and State Board of Education:
1. Reduce the volatility in the basic education funding (BEF) formula by using three-year averages in certain data elements, lessening the concentrated poverty “cliff,” and resetting the base at the 2023/24 distribution level. Provide at least a $200 million increase through this updated BEF formula each year;
2. Calculate adequacy targets for each school district;
3. Reconstitute the next BEFC in 2029 per Act 51 of 2014;
4. Invest in school facilities;
5. Examine charter school funding;
6. Invest in our education workforce;
7. Invest in student supports; and
8. Consider other important education issues outside the direct scope of this BEFC.
The Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center – two of the plaintiffs in the case – said the report is a good first step that, if fully implemented, would make a life-changing difference for students.
“The $5.4 billion target for adequate funding statewide would increase total public education funding statewide by 17% over seven years, targeted to students in low-wealth districts that have been shortchanged for decades.
“This proposal is not perfect. It includes $300 million as Pennsylvania’s first meaningful state investment in school facilities in nearly a decade, but that is just a small down-payment on an immense need for safe and healthy facilities identified by Commonwealth Court. The report also does not include investments in Pre-K education that the court identified as fundamental to a constitutional public education system. We urge legislators and the Governor to work together to address these essential needs for our students.”
Gov. Josh Shapiro sees a path forward to deliver a solution.
“Last year, Commonwealth Court directed my Administration, legislative leaders, and education advocates to work together to ensure every child in Pennsylvania receives an adequate and equitable education. The report adopted today by the Basic Education Funding Commission is a reflection of that work and of the consensus across Pennsylvania, and among leaders in both parties, that there is a real path forward to deliver a comprehensive solution on K-12 education in Pennsylvania.
“Today’s report acknowledges that additional, targeted investments in public education are necessary to adequately meet the needs of school districts throughout Pennsylvania. The report also addresses a number of priorities of mine that continue the critical investments we have already made – including mental health supports for our kids, resources to repair, maintain, and secure school facilities, and efforts to increase and support our teachers.”
Pennsylvania House leaders lauded the report.
“Today’s Basic Education Funding Commission report is a groundbreaking plan that recommends significant, targeted investments that will level the playing field by ensuring education funding is adequately and equitably distributed, all while providing significant property tax relief to many Pennsylvanians who have been overburdened for too long.
“The report is a compromise that thoughtfully includes input from lawmakers and the many important voices who shared their experiences and recommendations with the Basic Education Funding Commission. (It) provides a roadmap to a better future for our kids. Now, we must get to work to ensure the recommendations are implemented so our students have access to a quality and safe public education with all the tools and resources they need to succeed.”
Commission member Rep. Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) said he wanted to make sure that kids across Pennsylvania have the same opportunities as those from higher-spending school districts.
“Today’s report that was approved by the majority of BEFC members would provide adequacy, equity, and stability for all our school districts. It means more books, better technology, and more teachers into the classrooms. It also means new school buildings and renovated classrooms. Lastly, it means more money in the pockets of Pennsylvanians living in the high tax areas of the commonwealth.
“We are investing $5 billion per year to level the playing field for districts being left behind. We are delivering a billion-dollar property tax cut for homeowners in districts where the burden has hit them the hardest. And we are recognizing the massive costs of construction and major renovations cannot simply be absorbed by districts by creating a new funding method that invests in our commonwealth while investing in our kids.
One Democrat on the BEF – Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny) – voted against the report.
“I cannot in good faith vote for a compromise report that will ultimately serve as the starting point for budget negotiations,” she wrote in a statement. “I did not want the public to look at a unanimous Democratic-only report and think that it represents our shared goals for this year’s budget. It does not. A unanimous Democratic-only report risks setting the ceiling for negotiations—and this report is closer to my floor. I saw little reason to comprise now.”
Republican leaders were miffed that their proposal did not receive a majority and that the Democrats’ report did not go far enough.
“We have been presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize our Commonwealth’s education system and provide our children with a prosperous future,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland). “It’s unfortunate the Democrats on the commission were unable to come up with a new approach. Instead, they want to spend billions on the same plan with no results. As I have previously stated, throwing more money into a failing system is not a solution. We can and must do better for the education of our children and to ensure we have a skilled workforce to fill the jobs of the future.”
“This Basic Education Funding Commission had the ability to forge a path for transformational change in our system of public education that created real choice through innovative approaches to education while also providing necessary resources to ensure proven models of development can be successful,” said House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster). “Unfortunately, the one-sided, Democrat-created report continues to toe the line of special interest rhetoric and will leave too many Pennsylvania students on the same road to nowhere instead of on a new path to prosperity.”
“The Basic Education Funding Commission’s recommendations in the adopted report released today are deeply disappointing,” said Commonwealth Foundation Director of Legislative Strategy Kevin Kane. “Some commission members lost sight of the original mandate—to review the ‘fair funding formula’ and ensure an equitable, student-based distribution of funds. Instead, a majority of its members embraced special interest group calls for multibillion-dollar increases in public education spending—an ineffective move that fails to address the core of Pennsylvania’s education issues.”
The GOP proposal was split along party lines with the three Administration representatives voting to abstain.
Jerry T. Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that the report points Pennsylvania in the right direction.
“I applaud the Basic Education Funding Commission for their bipartisan commitment to examining school funding inequities in our Commonwealth, and specifically the Democratic committee members and individuals representing Governor Shapiro’s administration for laying out a plan that addresses many of the inequities that we have shined a light on for years. We believe that the mechanisms laid out by the Commission, if enacted into law and implemented with fidelity, have the capacity to move school funding forward in the right direction.”
State leaders have acknowledged that if lawmakers and Gov. Shapiro do not approve an appropriate funding formula, the plaintiffs in that case — six school districts, the NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools — may take up further legal action against the state.
The BEF Commission is made of 15 members— 4 Education Committee chairs, plus 2 additional legislators each from the four General Assembly Caucuses (House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Republicans, and Senate Democrats), plus 3 members of the Administration.
Republicans. Reps. Jesse Topper (Bedford/Fulton), Jason Ortitay (Allegheny/Washington) and Ryan Warner (Fayette/ Westmoreland); Sens. David Argall (Carbon/Luzerne/Schuylkill), Kristin Phillips-Hill (York) and Greg Rothman (Cumberland/Dauphin/Perry).
Democrats. Reps. Pete Schweyer (Lehigh), Mike Sturla (Lancaster) and Mary Isaacson (Philadelphia); Sens. Lindsey Williams (Allegheny), Vincent Hughes (Philadelphia) and Nick Miller (Lehigh/Northampton).
Administration. Dr. Khalid Mumin (Education Secretary), Angela Fitterer (Deputy Secretary of Education designee) and Natalie Krug (Budget Office).