Fundamental flaws are at the root of school funding woes

Several school districts in the region appear to be having even greater budget struggles for 2014-15 and have asked for exemptions that would allow them to raise taxes beyond what state law allows.

And by now, you’ve heard the spin Gov. Tom Corbett cut $1 billion from public education three years ago and this is the fallout.

The fact is, the funding cut was from a dollar amount bolstered by federal stimulus dollars several years ago during the Rendell administration. All public school administrator knew the funding was temporary. We’re not here to judge how they chose to use the temporary funding, but the wise move would have been to prepare for this day.

The bare funding facts are that Corbett is proposing to spend $10.1 billion on public education next, slightly more than last year, which was a record high.

Since 2008, Pennsylvania has been spending about $14,000 per student, one of the nation’s highest rates.

While 58 percent of public school funding goes toward instruction, 12 percent goes toward construction and debt, and that category is growing.

Since 2000, schools have added 17,000 staffers while enrollments have dropped by 60,000 statewide. Administration and professional staff numbers have grown by 40 percent in the past 15 years; teaching staff, by 14 percent.

The problem is clearly not being created by Corbett. It’s being created by the choices that were made several years ago up until now.

Instead of using school funding as an election year talking point, the state leaders should be looking hard at a new funding formula for the schools and permitting schools to opt out of prevailing wage mandates on construction projects. Leaders should be looking at reform that allows schools to keep the best teachers, regardless of age or experience.

Until these fundamental flaws are changed, the school funding problem will only get worse.

The problem isn’t that $10.1 billion is inadequate. The problem is the outdated formula and philosophy that determines how that $10.1 billion is spent.