Education in Pennsylvania
Position in Brief
The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania supports equal access to quality public education, to be achieved by participation of government and citizens at all levels and by adequate financing based on an equitable and flexible tax system.
LWVPA first adopted an education position, focusing on equality of opportunity and taxation, in 1975. The position was updated in 1986 to include aspects of teacher and other professional evaluations, preparation, certification, and tenure. In 2003, the position was further updated, emphasizing the need for both adequate state funding and a system that distributes these funds in a manner that diminishes the dependence of school districts on the resources of local taxpayers, thereby decreasing the unacceptable disparities in resources between rich and poor districts.
The 2003 update also included addressing problems inherent in the system of funding of special education costs and implementation of the 1997 Charter School Law. Act 1 (2006) allowed school districts to decide to reduce local property taxes by shifting some revenue to a local income tax. Additionally, the law required that every school district that wants to raise taxes above the state-determined inflation rate submit their budgets to a referendum. School boards can apply for exceptions for certain cost increases that are not under their control. Legislation in 2011 identified these exceptions as construction debts, retirement payments, and special education costs.
In 2006, the Pennsylvania General Assembly commissioned a statewide “Costing Out Study” by the State Board of Education. The study was a comprehensive audit of the way Pennsylvania funds public education and identified the level of resources every school district needs to ensure that every student has access to a high quality education. Using the study, the governor proposed a six-year plan to distribute state education aid more equitably. The General Assembly used the “Costing Out Study” to calculate the distribution of state aid in the 2008-2009 state budget but did not commit to continuing the formula in future budgets.
Faced with the economic downturn in 2008, even though the state designated less money for education, the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 budgets included federal stimulus dollars which made up for the lack of state funds. For the 2011-2012 budget, these federal funds were no longer available, so the total amount from the state budget for K-12 education was almost $960,000,000 less than in previous years. Adding to the problem was that less affluent districts were disproportionately affected since more of their funding is from the state subsidies. Districts across the state eliminated programs, raised class sizes, and furloughed teachers.
PA Schools Work Coalition
LWVPA supports the PA Schools Work Coalition, which is a coalition of organizations across Pennsylvania workig to advocate for PA public schools. This coalition represents teachers and other educators, parents and, most importantly, students. In 2019, PA Schools Work fought for increased basic education funding, increased special education funding, and charter school funding reform.