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Guest Opinion

Bucks County schools will benefit from landmark funding bill


On Monday, a landmark bill passed the Pa. House of Representatives that promises to benefit every school district in Bucks County. In this bill — HB 2370 — well-funded districts such as Council Rock and New Hope-Solebury will retain their strong base funding, benefit from cyber-charter reform, and receive annual cost of living increases.

Severely underfunded districts such as Bensalem and Bristol Township will be brought up to an adequate funding level over seven years. Moderately funded districts like Neshaminy will also receive increases to bring them up to adequacy. Important to many taxpayers, the proposal reduces the property tax burden for districts that are struggling to keep up, such as Quakertown Community and Morrisville. The increased funding can stabilize the local property tax burden for all districts.

This opportunity arises from a decisive ruling last year by the Commonwealth Court, which declared the current state support for public education unconstitutional. The court mandated reform, emphasizing that all students must have access to a comprehensive, effective and modern public education system. It highlighted the unacceptable disparities between wealthy and poor districts, which violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause. HB2370 provides a thorough and detailed plan to meet the requirements of the court.

In 1975, the state provided 54% of K-12 education funding. It steadily declined until it hit 32% in 2017. Pennsylvania now stands at 38%, one of the lowest in the nation. As a result, this steady decline in state funding has pushed up local property taxes throughout Pennsylvania.

Even with higher local property taxes, 87% of school districts in our state do not receive sufficient funding to meet the state’s own adequacy standards. That includes five of the 12 school districts in Bucks County.

The proposed plan gradually brings every district up to adequacy over the course of seven years.

But adequate funding alone does not meet the constitutional standard. The court found that the current system violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause. The court order requires that funding be distributed in ways that meet the needs of each district’s students.

The proposal’s fair funding formula starts with the number of students enrolled in the district, and adds factors such as poverty level, number of English language learners, and population sparsity that requires lengthy bus routes. The new plan would stabilize district funding by calculating demographic changes on a three-year average. The funding increase is phased in over seven years. With a full commitment to the seven-year period, every school district will come up to an equitable share of state funding.

Current public education funding also places Pennsylvania at the bottom of the 50 states in racial equity.

Pennsylvania school districts with the highest percentage of white children get an average of $2,000 more per child per year than their formula-determined share of state dollars, and districts with the most Black and brown children get an average of $1,200 per child less than their state-determined share. Happily, the newly proposed standards will bring all districts up to adequacy, regardless of the racial composition of the student body.

HB2370 is good for Pennsylvania’s economy. A qualified workforce supports economic development. More jobs produce more tax revenue. The cost of crime and the social safety net declines. Everybody wins.

Every community in Bucks County stands to gain from this new education funding plan. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity. Urge your state senator to support the plan in full and to show commitment for strong public schools for every child.

Jacqueline R. Pinkney is pastor of Bethlehem African Methodist Episcopal Church in Langhorne.

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