Research for Action commends the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission for adopting a strong report, recommending several improvements to the state’s system of education funding. The recommendations are rooted in a deep evidence base, including research from RFA and others demonstrating Pennsylvania’s unfortunate distinction of operating one of the most inequitable school systems in the nation.
As cited in the report, RFA’s Director of Policy, David Lapp, provided evidence in testimony before the Commission that Pennsylvania currently operates an “upside-down system” where overall averages mask nation-leading gaps by student poverty and race in (1) school funding, which lead to nation-leading gaps in (2) access to educational opportunity, which in turn contribute to nation-leading gaps (3) in education outcomes. As the Commission found:
A straight line can be drawn from inequitable resources to inequitable learning opportunities to inequitable achievement outcomes. To see improved student achievement, economic growth, and a strong workforce in Pennsylvania, investing in adequate and educational opportunities for all students is the best investment to make.
If the General Assembly and Governor Josh Shapiro were to enact the Commission’s recommendations to drive substantial additional revenue to Pennsylvania’s most underfunded districts, based on calculated adequacy targets, it would set the Commonwealth on a path to reversing current trends of wide disparities by student race and poverty in access to:
- fair ratios of students to teachers and other staff;
- equitable educational opportunities, including access to:
- certified teachers,
- experienced teachers,
- rigorous curricula, such as AP calculus, chemistry, and physics, and advanced math courses, and
- a positive school climate;
- safe and healthy school facilities; and
- enriching out-of-school time and after-school opportunities.
The recommendations could also lead to more equitable teacher salaries, which would better attract and retain talent, including educators of color who are wildly underrepresented in Pennsylvania’s schools and overwhelmingly working in our most underfunded districts, with lower salaries, higher student-teacher ratios, and students with greater needs.
The BEF Commission’s report, along with Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer’s meticulously documented opinion in William Penn SD et al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et al., demonstrate that empirical evidence still matters. Policymakers would be wise to enact these recommendations based on that evidence.