WFMZ's Jamie Stover took a look Wednesday night at Pennsylvania's uneven manner of school funding, a system which sometimes distributes significantly less money for the education of kids in poor communities. Now, in part two of her "Opportunity by Zip Code" series, she looks at what could be done about the issue.
In 2016, Pennsylvania's legislature unanimously implemented a fair funding formula to address disparities in school funding.
The formula factors in the ability of a community to raise taxes, the number of children living in poverty, and how many aren't primarily English speakers, recognizing those students cost more to educate.
But legislators on both sides of the aisle agree it didn't fully solve the problem.
"There's inequities in education, they're evident in how much districts spend in the state," said Pa. Sen. Pat Browne (R), Senate Appropriations Chair.
"Children in our poorest districts that need the most resources, unbelievably, ironically, receive the fewest," said Pa. Rep. Matthew Bradford (D), Minority Chair, House Appropriations Committee.
The formula only applies to new dollars the state invests in education. Right now that's about 11 percent of the education budget.
"It is a huge step in the right direction. But the gap still persists from years, and years and years of being underfunded," said Dr. Khalid Mumin, Superintendent of Reading School District.
Reading is one of the state's most impoverished school districts.
"We just have to go back and put some funding into the formula to be able to take care of some of the gaps that occurred in the past," Mumin said.
"The biggest accomplishment in recognizing the inequities, and solving them, was putting in place a formula, that if implemented, would solve them," Browne said.
Browne said fully implementing the formula doesn't mean redistributing all of the state's education funding. He said that strategy would devastate some districts, particularly in the north and western parts of the state where population has shrunk.
He said those schools would lose millions of dollars in the equation.
"Teachers would be lost, schools would be lost," Browne said. "It's unlikely to even pass. Because of the number of districts that would lose over time."
Instead, Browne wants the state to invest another $800 million in the formula to catch up disadvantaged schools. He'd like to do it over the course of a few years, ultimately running 20% of the state's education budget through the fair funding formula.
In February, Governor Wolf proposed running all of the education budget through the formula, spending even more and doing it in a year's time.
But income taxes would go up 50 percent.
Both plans would ensure no districts would get less than the year before.
"We need the political will to address this issue," said Maura McInerney, Legal Director at the Education Law Center in Philadelphia.
And if there isn't political will, McInerney and colleagues at the Education Law Center hope the courts will do something about it. The center, among others, is suing the state for its school funding system. The suit was filed in 2014 and expected to go to trial this summer.
One of the suit's key complaints is that the state leaves too much of the funding responsibility to local and federal sources, much more than other states.
A 2018 study by Education Trust ranked Pennsylvania 47th for the percentage of dollars it contributes.
"It's a huge driver of the inequities," McInerney said.
"If you just look at generically around the state, 'we're not spending enough,' it doesn't consider the whole picture," Browne said.
Browne said the state's most challenged districts get more than half of their budget from the state.
In the coming year, the debate over Pennsylvania's education funding will continue in court and in Harrisburg. The state reassesses the funding formula every five years. If it doesn't happen this year, it won't be re-evaluated until 2026.
"Education is the best tool we have to fight poverty, crime, hopelessness in our communities, we need to get this right and we are generationally past due in making sure that happens," Bradford said.