The recession came, but Gov. Ed Rendell used federal stimulus funds to increase overall education spending while cutting the state's share. That decision backfired after Gov. Corbett assumed office and did not replace the stimulus cash when it dried up. Corbett boasts that he budgeted more state money for schools than Rendell, but minus the federal money, schools received less.
In January, Corbett agreed that the state needs "a true, fair funding system of all the schools of Pennsylvania," but since then he has said little about that. An issue statement on his campaign website sums up his thoughts on education in 256 words. Months ago, a spokesman said Corbett supports a bill to establish a commission to study and recommend a new funding formula. But the state has been there and done that.
There's no need to start from scratch. Why not simply adjust Act 61 to reflect the current situation? Its formula allocated basic-education funds based on each district's enrollment, poverty level, number of students learning to speak English, local tax levy, and other criteria. Using such a formula to accurately assess and fund each district's needs should keep schools from having to beg for cash.
Of course, for that to happen, the formula must be properly funded. Pennsylvania's share of school funding has dipped from 50 percent in the 1990s to about 35 percent today, ranking it 47th in the nation. Poor districts with weak tax bases haven't been able to fill the gap. And some districts, including Philadelphia, must contend with huge debts that reduce per-pupil spending.
Work-rule changes for teachers and wiser spending by central offices can make a difference. But fewer tax breaks could provide the funding schools also need to improve classroom results.