Fair Funding In Formula Only
Scranton taxpayers can take scant comfort from several analyses showing that the state government woefully underfunds the Scranton School District. The state government itself is well aware of it but does not appear to be inclined to rectify the problem.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia conducted an analysis showing that Scranton has the greatest financial need of any district in Pennsylvania with more than 7,000 students. It would need an additional $3,883 per student to meet what it actually costs to educate students in Scranton when poverty rates, special education and numbers of non-English-speaking students are considered, according to the analysis.
A second analysis by Sarah Hofius Hall of The Times-Tribune found that Scranton is the lowest-funded of the state’s districts with at least 8,000 students and average household incomes below $40,000 per year. Scranton received $42.13 million from the state in the 2017-2018 school year, $4,166 per student; well behind Reading, $7,615 per student; Allentown, $6,808; Erie, $5,831; and Lancaster, $5,489.
The disparities are not just a function of an inaccurate state funding formula. They also slow from generations of Scranton school boards being asleep at the switch. The Erie district, for example, discovered its own funding disparity several years ago and lobbied aggressively to improve its appropriation. Now, according to the newspaper’s analysis, Scranton would need an additional $17 million from the state just to match Erie’s basic per-student subsidy.
Meanwhile, the Legislature and the Wolf administration in 2015 recognized the disparities in funding distributions by adopting a formula that accounts for local tax burden, poverty and student demographics. It applied the formula only to new funding, however, or about 7 percent of total funding. If that fairer formula were applied to all state funding, Scranton would receive an additional $17 million per year.
It is characteristic of Pennsylvania’s government that it would adopt something called a fair-funding formula and apply it to only 7 percent of funding, inherently conceding that the remaining 93 percent is distributed unfairly.
Despite the district’s own sleepwalking regarding state funding, it is abundantly clear that the state government has a major role to play in helping the struggling city district to achieve not only fairer funding, but the fairer educational opportunities for students that the funding provides.