Fund Students, Not School Districts

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

For Immediate Release
Commonwealth Foundation
Contact: Cindy Hamill
(856) 607-4208

In Education Debate, Let’s Fund Students not Districts
Current System Unfairly Favors Shrinking Districts at Growing Districts’ Expense

December 4, 2014, HARRISBURG, Pa.—In the ongoing state education funding debate, a common refrain is that more money will solve all problems. But Pennsylvania already spends $14,600 in total funding per student—nearly $3,000 more than the national average. How can even more money be the answer?

It isn’t. There’s a smarter solution: Assigning funds based on the needs of individual students—no matter their ZIP code—promises to fix the current system’s flaws without breaking the bank. This approach is known as weighted student funding (WSF).

Today, at the state Basic Education Funding Reform Commission’s hearing in East Stroudsburg, Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation, will offer testimony that points to a severe flaw in the current funding system—the misnamed "hold harmless" provision—and highlights WSF as an alternative.

"’Hold harmless,’ which guarantees that a district receives no fewer state dollars than it did the previous year regardless of enrollment changes, has been remarkably unfair to growing school districts across the state," Benefield commented. "The problem is now so severe that districts with declining enrollment receive more than three times the state funding per student than growing districts."

Indeed, Commonwealth Foundation research shows that state aid per student in the 20 fastest-growing districts since 1996 was just over $3,000 in 2012-13. For the 20 fastest-shrinking districts, state aid per student was nearly $10,000.

20 Fastest Growing PA Districts 1996-2013
District County Growth 2013 State
Revenue Per Student
Garnet Valley Delaware 119% $2,877.47
Perkiomen Valley Montgomery 89% $2,826.65
South Fayette Township Allegheny 86% $2,698.31
Spring-Ford Area Montgomery 83% $2,764.82
Pine-Richland Allegheny 74% $2,686.28
New Hope-Solebury Bucks 61% $2,777.26
Central York York 60% $2,555.85
Oxford Area Chester 56% $4,538.11
Avon Grove Chester 53% $4,340.74
Daniel Boone Area Berks 53% $4,282.96
Mars Area Butler 52% $3,217.76
Lower Moreland Twn Montgomery 48% $2,888.73
Kennett Consolidated Chester 47% $2,842.80
Jim Thorpe Area Carbon 45% $2,885.29
Central Bucks Bucks 45% $2,401.97
Tredyffrin-Easttown Chester 44% $2,211.83
Owen J Roberts Chester 41% $3,120.39
Peters Township Washington 40% $2,608.30
Wilson Berks 39% $2,784.51
Northeastern York York 38% $4,602.52
Average Top 20 59% $3,095.63

20 Fastest Shrinking PA Districts 1996-2013
District County Growth 2013 State
Revenue Per Student
McGuffey Washington -30% $7,979.42
Sullivan County Sullivan -30% $6,208.08
Southeastern Greene Greene -31% $11,399.85
Warren County Warren -31% $7,881.19
Jeannette City Westmoreland -32% $9,242.87
Ligonier Valley Westmoreland -32% $5,611.11
Susquehanna Community Susquehanna -32% $10,778.41
Union Clarion -32% $11,529.47
Punxsutawney Area Jefferson -32% $9,524.06
Austin Area Potter -32% $11,885.68
Galeton Area Potter -33% $7,903.20
Cranberry Area Venango -33% $8,525.50
Farrell Area Mercer -33% $12,197.76
Marion Center Area Indiana -34% $10,288.15
Northern Potter Potter -35% $10,904.21
Allegheny-Clarion Valley Clarion -35% $11,479.26
Purchase Line Indiana -35% $12,383.83
Johnsonburg Area Elk -36% $11,175.29
Salisbury-Elk Lick Somerset -39% $9,555.59
Cameron County Cameron -39% $10,600.96
Average Bottom 20 -33% $9,852.69

In contrast, the WSF approach is far more flexible to changes in student enrollment.

Benefield continued:

"State funds should follow the student, not be locked into a district. Weighted student funding provides a baseline per-pupil amount to all students, which would be increased for individual students based on their learning needs. For example, low-income students, English-language learners, those changing school districts, and other criteria could be used to allocate funding where it’s needed most.
"Ultimately, transitioning away from ‘hold harmless’ and instituting weighted student funding—as states like Rhode Island and Hawaii have done to great success—would correct much of the inequality inherent in the current system, better serve students’ unique needs, and avoid asking taxpayers for more money."

Nathan Benefield and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Cindy Hamill at (856) 607-4208 to schedule an interview.

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For more information, please contact Cindy Hamill, director of strategic communications for the Commonwealth Foundation at (856) 607-4208 or [email protected].

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