Ed Funding Report Would Increase Family Taxes by $2,000 Per Year

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

By Stephen Bloom

The Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC) has approved its final report on distributing basic education funding for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.

I’m concerned about what’s in the report. The report alarmingly recommends an additional $5.4 billion in basic education funding. To foot that bill, the average family of four in Pennsylvania can expect to pay an extra $2,000 per year in taxes.

But what’s even more troubling is what’s not in the report.

No Bipartisanship
However, their final report lacks bipartisan support. The report narrowly passed 8–7. All Republican members voted against it.
One Democrat, Sen. Lindsay Williams, also voted no, but only because she views the proposal as not going far enough.

“A unanimous Democratic-only report risks setting the ceiling for negotiations—and this report is closer to my floor,” said Williams before the final vote. “I saw little reason to compromise now.”

If $5.4 billion is Williams’s floor, I’m afraid to hear what her ceiling is.

Lawmakers Must Step Up

The BEFC report doesn’t acknowledge the commission’s defined, limited role: review the distribution of Pennsylvania’s basic education funding.
The statutory authority is clear: Only the General Assembly, through the annual appropriations process, can determine the level of state funding for basic education. The BEFC has no power to impose educational funding levels.
Instead, any new funding recommendations can only go into effect via legislation approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor. Thus, lawmakers must work together to negotiate timely, good-faith solutions that put all policy options on the table.
The flawed BEFC report, narrowly adopted along partisan lines, is just the beginning of this important discussion.

Following the Commonwealth Court’s February 2023 ruling that Pennsylvania’s educational funding system is unconstitutional, some observers have misplaced expectations, assuming this BEFC report will usher in drastic increases in basic education funding.

Yet, more funding isn’t the panacea proponents claim.

Since 2013, state support for public education is up 55 percent in Pennsylvania, reaching an all-time high of $15.5 billion in fiscal year 2023–24. Spending more than $21,000 per pupil, Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s biggest spenders on public education.

However, increased funding doesn’t correlate with increased student achievement. If anything, the opposite is true: Pennsylvania student performance has lagged despite record spending.
Test scores have yet to recover since the pandemic. More than half of Pennsylvania’s fourth graders and nearly 75 percent of eighth graders cannot perform grade-level math.

Before special interests demand the spending of even more tax dollars, Pennsylvania taxpayers deserve to see a return on their already sizable investment.

Accountability and Choice

The BEFC report doesn’t address accountability.

What happens when a school district receives more funding, but its students continue to struggle academically? Are the schools held responsible for failing their students? If so, how?

Furthermore, what are parents and students to do if their school continues to fail them? Students need better schools now, not later. They don’t have time to wait for these low-performing schools to get their acts together.

Fortunately, better schools already exist. Students and families need the freedom to choose the right school, making school choice programs vital to this conversation.

Yet, the BEFC report fails to address the need for school choice.

To acknowledge the vital role school choice programs play in Pennsylvania’s education system, lawmakers and the governor should expand existing programs, such as the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs, or legislate new ones, such as Lifeline Scholarships, also known as the Pennsylvania Award for Student Success (PASS).

EITC, OSTC, and Lifeline Scholarships/PASS address the systemic inequities identified by the court. These programs provide immediate solutions to students and families trapped in Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing schools and empower them to choose their academic destiny.

Let’s always remember our ultimate priority: students. Regardless of what the commission recommends, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and the governor are the ones who must step up and find common ground to ensure that Pennsylvania funds students, not broken systems.