School aid formula being considered creates winners, losers

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A new public school funding formula being considered by the Legislature would create winners and losers as it seeks a way to link the distribution of state aid more closely to need.

Shrinking school districts that were previously spared aid cutbacks – many in western Pennsylvania – would see their share of aid come in lower under the proposed new formula, an Associated Press analysis found.

But many of Pennsylvania’s biggest cities and fastest-growing suburbs – believed to have been shortchanged previously – would get a larger slice of aid for public school instruction and operations.

Here’s a further examination and breakdown of the plan, including which counties and districts would see the biggest gains and which would see the biggest losses:
SHARE OF WINNERS, LOSERS

All told, 162 districts would get a bigger share of aid that is distributed through the new formula compared to the share of aid the districts received this year, the AP found. Nearly twice as many, 308, would get a smaller share; 30 would see no difference.

No district’s aid would drop below the amount it now receives even if it continues to shrink.

HOW IT WOULD BE IMPLEMENTED

The Legislature has not settled when to start using the formula or how much money to distribute through it. For instance, districts may continue to receive the amount of aid they got this year and only dollars allotted above that baseline amount would be carved up differently under the new formula.

But it would change how at least some aid to Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts would be distributed after more than two decades of lawmakers and governors bending the formula to their will.

WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THE NEW FORMULA

It places more emphasis on need.

It would recognize a district’s number of low-income students, including those living below the federal poverty level, as well as their percentage of enrollment. It also would, for the first time, recognize charter school costs, geographic size and financial wherewithal to fund schools with local taxes. The number of English-language learners would also be a factor, as it has only intermittently in the past.

PERCENTAGE SHARE FOR 10 LARGEST DISTRICTS (by student population):

Philadelphia: 18.8 percent; up from 17.8 percent.

Pittsburgh: 1.75; down from 2.75.

Central Bucks (Bucks County): 0.46; up from 0.30.

Allentown: 2.94; up from 1.76.

Reading: 3.86; up from 2.12.

Bethlehem: 0.88; up from 0.51.

Erie City: 1.78; up from 1.04.

North Penn (Montgomery County): 0.28; up from 0.16.

Downingtown Area (Chester County): 0.251; up from 0.248.

Upper Darby (Delaware): 0.85; up from 0.62.

EXPLANATION: Pittsburgh is a loser here after being protected from losing money amid steep declines in student population in the past two decades. Winners include districts that educate large proportions of the poorest students – such as Philadelphia, Allentown and Reading – and did not shrink as fast, and suburban districts that are growing, including North Penn, Downingtown Area and Upper Darby.

10 DISTRICTS WITH BIGGEST INCREASE IN PERCENTAGE SHARE (in order of biggest gain):

Reading

Allentown

Philadelphia

Lancaster City

York City

Erie City

Wilkes-Barre Area

Pocono Mountain (Monroe County)

Harrisburg City

Bethlehem Area

EXPLANATION: Cities are dealing with the poorest, most challenging students to educate, and this formula is designed to help deliver more aid to address that. Pocono Mountain is an example of a growing suburban district that was relatively neglected.

10 DISTRICTS WITH BIGGEST DECREASE IN PERCENTAGE SHARE (in order of biggest loss):

Pittsburgh

Altoona Area

Armstrong

Pleasant Valley (Monroe County)

Connellsville Area (Fayette County)

Warren County

Penncrest (Crawford County)

Punxsutawney Area (Jefferson County)

Penn-Trafford (Westmoreland County)

Forest Hills (Cambria County)

EXPLANATION: All these counties are in western Pennsylvania, where the state’s biggest population losses have occurred since 1990, when Pennsylvania governors and lawmakers began discounting the importance of student population changes in determining how to divide up state aid among school districts. The result was that districts with shrinking student populations continued to receive more aid.

10 COUNTIES WITH BIGGEST INCREASE IN PERCENTAGE SHARE (in order of biggest gain)

Berks

Lehigh

Lancaster

York

Philadelphia

Montgomery

Delaware

Monroe

Luzerne

Dauphin

EXPLANATION: The increases in these counties are largely driven by the increased share for a big city, though a couple – Monroe, Montgomery and Delaware – would get larger shares based on growing student populations.

10 COUNTIES WITH BIGGEST LOSS IN PERCENTAGE SHARE (in order of biggest loss)

Westmoreland

Washington

Beaver

Cambria

Blair

Allegheny

Butler

Fayette

Indiana

Somerset

EXPLANATION: The counties with the biggest proposed loss in share of school dollars are in western Pennsylvania, where the state’s biggest population losses have occurred.

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