BEF Commission Makes a Stop in Pittsburgh

(November 3, 2023)

Throughout the fall, the Basic Education Funding Commission has been conducting meetings across the Commonwealth to hear from different stakeholders on ways to improve the education funding system for all public schools in Pennsylvania. This is being done as the General Assembly attempts to fix the school funding system which was declared unconstitutional in a lawsuit earlier this year. In October, the commission made a stop in Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Westinghouse 6-12, in the career and technical (CTE) suite, and heard from two panels – one to discuss CTE and another on support services for public school students – including early childhood education and students with disabilities.

The CTE panel featured CTE Directors, Dr. Darby Copeland (Executive Director of CTE at Parkway West Career and Technical Center (CTC) and current President of PA Career and Technical Administrators), and Angela Mike (Executive Director of CTE Programming at Pittsburgh Public Schools). Their testimony focused on the role CTE has in preparing students for the careers of today and tomorrow. Ms. Mike and Dr. Copeland focused heavily on the importance of partnerships, the successes of students, and the recent growth of CTE enrollment. They also focused on challenges that include costs of equipment, hiring quality instructors, and funding struggles. These struggles make it difficult to open new programs that can align to the region’s needs. Currently for most CTCs, the education institution receives about 3% of their total funding in federal dollars from the Perkins Act, 8% in state funding, and about 90% from the student’s home school. As a reminder, typically a student enrolled in a CTC attends a traditional public school for half a day and then is transported to a CTC for the remainder of their day where they receive CTE coursework. This structure creates inequity throughout the county with all CTE students having a price tag attached to them, and if a school district already struggles financially, it may be more limited to who and how many students it can send to a CTC. Allies for Children joins our partners, including PACTA, in advocating for a more equitable funding system for CTE, where the majority of funding is not placed on the home school. This change in the funding structure could ensure that all students truly have equal access to high quality CTE programming.

The second panel included representatives from Trying Together, Disability Rights Network, PA Libraries Association, and the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU). This panel talked about the roles of early childhood education and special education, and the impact the current funding formula has on Allegheny County schools. During this portion of the hearing, Dr. Robert Scherrer of the AIU addressed head-on the notion that eliminating the “hold harmless” provision would reallocate funds to our most neediest schools. Hold harmless is a provision built into the funding formula that ensures schools do not receive less than their “base,” which was determined in 2016 to be the FY 2014-15 allocation. The Fair Funding Formula then distributes only new appropriated funds through the formula – meaning only the increases since 2016 go through the formula. During an early BEF Commission hearing, the PA Department of Education walked the commission through the formula. You can view that presentation here.

Across the Commonwealth, if all Basic Education Funding (BEF) funds were distributed through the Fair Funding Formula there would be significant “winners” and “losers.” While some of those “winners” are districts with a high number of students of color and economically disadvantaged students, other winners are wealthy districts who have seen significant population growth. In Dr. Scherrer’s testimony he states:

Some districts with significant challenges and student needs – including Clairton City, Duquesne City, South Allegheny, Steel Valley and Wilkinsburg Borough – would lose BEF under the FFF, assuming the same total BEF allocation. Meanwhile, some of the county’s wealthiest, best-resourced districts – such as Avonworth, Fox Chapel Area, Moon Area, Montour, Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, and Quaker Valley and Upper St. Clair – would receive windfalls, rewarding them for their population growth or stability relative to other districts.

He continues on to say that two of the districts who won the lawsuit against the state would lose funding if all current funds were run through the Fair Funding Formula. However, if there was a significant infusion of funds allocated to BEF, then that might be enough to create winners all around. Without that large and significant infusion of funds and without amending the formula to address the hold harmless provision, then simply removing the provision and running all funds through the formula – either immediately or over a number of years – would cause financial ruin for a number of districts in Allegheny County and across the Commonwealth. Our children, our communities, and us as taxpayers will ultimately pay the price.

Without adequately and equitably funded schools, our children cannot receive the education they need to be prepared for lifelong success in our ever-changing global economy. We join our partners in urging the Basic Education Funding Commission to reach a consensus and issue a report that invests significant resources in our most struggling districts and aims to uplift public schools and, therefore, our communities.

Jamie Baxter, Allies for Children Executive Director