The BEF Commission Report Has Arrived: What Do They Recommend?

(January 12, 2024)

After months of hearings and receiving testimony from education stakeholders across the Commonwealth, the Basic Education Funding Commission approved a report that outlines an updated formula for Basic Education Funding. The report now advances to the Governor and the General Assembly for their consideration. For any of the Commission’s recommendations to become law, the General Assembly will have to approve the recommendations through the legislative process and the Governor would have to sign the bills that pass both the House and Senate.

Specific recommendations from the Commission’s report include:

  • Updating the formula’s base to 2023-2024 funding levels. Currently, the formula base is set at 2014-2015 levels, which ensures that no school district’s allocation goes below that amount (hold harmless). This new base updates those levels ensuring no school district loses funding based on other factors in the formula.
  • Using a three-year average of the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey to determine acute poverty and poverty levels for certain data sets within the formula, and extending the formula weights if a district has qualified within the last three years. Testifiers highlighted that this change would create less of a cliff for districts by creating a more predictable and less volatile formula.
  • Directing the General Assembly to allocate and distribute at least $200 million in appropriations annually through the formula.
  • Calculating adequacy gaps for each district. The Commission states that there is an adequacy gap of $5.4 billion overall, and the General Assembly should address this gap over the next seven years.
  • Reconstituting the BEF Commission in 2029.
  • Investing in School Facilities by allocating $300 million annually to districts to address school infrastructure and maintenance needs. Additionally, instruct the PA Department of Education to collect data and focus on the conditions of school buildings throughout Pennsylvania.
  • Providing three options to address the rising charter costs to districts:
    1. Re-establishing the charter school state reimbursement, which reimbursed districts about 30% of their charter school costs, but was eliminated in the 2010/2011 budget cycle;
    2. Modernizing cyber charter school tuition costs to better reflect the actual cost to provide cyber charter instruction; and
    3. Enacting broad charter school reforms, which have consistently failed to gain traction in the state legislature over the years.
  • Investing in the educator workforce by increasing investments in current programs dedicated to the teacher pipeline. Also, instructing the General Assembly to fund new programs focused on attracting new talent to the educator field, specifically for school-based mental health services, and programs that are geared toward retaining the current educator workforce.
  • Investing in student supports by:
    • Continuing to invest in mental health programs (currently the General Assembly is providing $100 million/year to support mental health services in schools);
    • Focusing on literacy programs that help all students read at the appropriate grade level; and
    • Encouraging expansion of community schools.

The report highlights Career and Technical Education, early childhood education and PreK, special education, and pupil transportation by recommending that the General Assembly continues to invest in these programs. However, no particular recommendations or allocation amounts were specified.

The report was approved on a mostly party-line vote, with almost all democrats voting in favor of it. Sen. Lindsay Williams (D) did not support the approved report and released this statement:

“I cannot in good faith vote for a compromise report that will ultimately serve as the starting point for budget negotiations. I did not want the public to look at a unanimous Democratic-only report and think that it represents our shared goals for this year’s budget. It does not. A unanimous Democratic-only report risks setting the ceiling for negotiations—and this report is closer to my floor.”

A second report, introduced by Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R) failed on party-line votes, with only the republicans on the Commission voting for its passage. The reports included some similarities, with both recommending changes to the base, calculations on poverty determinations, and addressing infrastructure challenges. However, the republican report did not include specific funding amounts or specific criteria for addressing the adequacy gap, and it did include a specific mention that school choice should be available to all families.

The fate of the report is now in the General Assembly’s hands. They will determine what they choose to adopt and dismiss as they work through the annual budget and appropriations cycle, which officially begins with the Governor’s budget address on Tuesday, February 6. At that time, the Governor will release his proposed budget, which outlines the administration’s priorities for the upcoming fiscal year and where they would like to see allocations for state-funded programs. This budget proposal serves as a blueprint for the appropriations process in the General Assembly, where they can choose to adopt or ignore the Governor’s recommended allocations.

Read more about the report: State commission recommends lawmakers adopt a $5.4B plan to revamp Pa.’s education system (WESA)

Check out our past blogs on the BEF Commission:
School Funding Court Decision Becomes Final, BEF Commission Formed
BEF Commission Makes a Stop in Pittsburgh
Adequate and Equitable: What it Means for PA Schools

Jamie Baxter, Allies for Children Executive Director