Bethlehem Press

Saturday, March 25, 2017
press photo by liz kemmererSandra Miller explains new state funding formula to Bethlehem School Board members. press photo by liz kemmererSandra Miller explains new state funding formula to Bethlehem School Board members.

Bethlehem Area SD-New formula could offer windfall

Tuesday, December 27, 2016 by Liz Kemmerer Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

It is estimated that BASD would receive an additional $400 million in new dollars this year on top of the guaranteed $350 million, thanks to Pennsylvania’s new Fair Funding Formula, adopted officially in June, 2016. Sandra Miller, circuit rider for PA schools, presented the outcomes of the new formula to the board of directors at their November monthly curriculum meeting at East Hills MS.

The Fair Funding Formula was born out of Pennsylvania’s Campaign for Fair Education Funding, launched in 2014 after Gov. Tom Corbett signed Act 51. The act established a new Basic Education Funding Commission tasked with putting together a new formula for calculating the distribution of education funds that more accurately reflects the needs of a given district.

For decades, Pa. education funds were distributed purely based on the number of students enrolled. The goal of the new formula is to not only address enrollment, but also certain demographics of a given district affecting the availability of resources and a district’s capability of raising funds on their own by the taxes and community support. The act was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf this past June. The campaign is running the numbers of districts through the new formula to show the potential outcomes for each district and create an even more powerful case for this formula becoming adopted permanently.

Miller explained that each year the old formula provided districts with a certain dollar amount per student enrolled, which could fluctuate with each given year. To address the drop in resources that this normally could leave with school districts, Pennsylvania has a “Hold Harmless” standard.

“Hold Harmless states that regardless of what happens with their enrollment, districts will never get less funding than the year before,” said Miller. “So, funding would always either stay the same or increase.”

The Fair Funding Campaign makes the case that the standard dollar amount assigned per student enrolled based on the old formula does not adequately account for obstacles some students face that others don’t, such as poverty, or learning English as a second language. These students typically require more resources to help ensure their success in school.

Each year, the new formula would be applied to the increase in funding for a district based on enrollment, Miller explained. The last two years, BASD received increases of $200 million and $150 million, resulting in $350 million in new funding that would be run through the new formula to calculate any additional new funding districts would be given on the basis of their demographics.

“The commission always had intended that this formula would be for new dollars,” Miller explained. “Bethlehem would do well, but wealthier schools are also doing well with the formula because their demographics are being reflected for the first time.”

Miller says schools with much larger populations of students living in poverty are especially benefitting from this and this is who the new formula is intended to help.

“The major benefit of this formula is the poverty component,” said Miller. I cover Wilkes Barre and Scranton school districts and over 30 percent of their population is in acute poverty status. This formula reflects the impact that poverty status has on that student, as well as the benefit of the extra dollars.”

This resulting $350 million is run through the new formula, which takes three key demographics into consideration: the number of students living in poverty, the number of English language learners and the number of students attending charter schools. These numbers are based on the latest census data, which, Miller says, makes this formula a “living formula,” in that the baseline demographical numbers will be the most current from year to year.

“It’s much like taking the dollars based on enrollment and giving extra credit for these three demographic areas,” Miller explained. “Instead of a dollar amount, the formula adds this credit in the form of more students, which then transfers to funding.”

The formula begins with a district’s Average Daily Membership (ADM), or the average number of students attending school over a three-year period, which comes to 15,253 students for BASD. From there, the ADMS of students living in poverty, students who are English language learners and students attending charter schools are considered for the baseline year of 2014-15.

The poverty ADM is figured from census data measuring the population of the district. This data indicates that 18.93 percent of BASD residents are living in acute poverty. In a percent-to-person conversion, this 18.93 percent comes to roughly 1,723 students. That is the assumed number of BASD students living in acute poverty and this number is added to the three-year ADM. Data indicates that 19.35 percent of BASD is living in moderate poverty, which comes to about 881 students. English language learners come to 545 students and 1674 students attend charter schools. When these demographical numbers are added to BASD’s three-year ADM, the new basis for funding is 18,738 students.

From there the funding considers the district’s median household income, which comes to $54,630. This is just above the Pa. average of $53,115. The number reflects BASD’s diverse range of incomes and lifestyles, from rural, to suburban, to urban.

The final number considered in the formula reflects the local effort a district puts forth to raise taxes and community support based on total population, average income and the revenue the school is able to generate.

“You are considered a very robust district,” Miller stated of BASD. “On the local effort, you have made a strong commitment to using your tax dollars towards education and you’re considered above average compared to schools across the state. That’s a very positive thing to be.”

When all four demographical ADMS, median household income and local effort are brought together, BASD gains an additional 9,525 students.