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Making Students Count: Action on Education Funding in Harrisburg

December 16, 2013- Tom Joseph
HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania may be taking steps to adopt formulas to fund education differently in public schools. The state's Special Education Funding Commission has issued a final report that calls for fundamental changes to the way state special education dollars are distributed to schools.

According to Susan Gobreski, who heads the group Education Voters of Pennsylvania, it's a good sign.

"This report makes a set of recommendations that actually calls for using data around what student needs are, what things cost, how we can actually provide the supports and services that students need to meet educational standards," she pointed out. "And that is a huge step in the right direction."

State Representative Mark Longietti said the "real numbers" approach in the commission report will help correct flawed assumptions in the current state formula; among them, that 16 percent of middle school students are considered "special ed," when he said that in some districts that number is as high as 20 percent.

"So now, we're going to actually count those students and we're going to break them up into cost categories, recognizing that some students need the least intensive services, whereas other students need the most intensive," the Democratic state legislator said.

Susan Gobreski said the call to form a basic education funding commission is reason for cautious optimism, as long as two things are happening.

"One, making long-term progress, and a commission that looks at a long-­term funding formula can help us do that," she stated. "We're also going to need to make sure that we're making progress this year and next year, and that we watch what is coming out of Harrisburg to see if this is the 'real deal.'"

The bipartisan commission recommended that the special education funding formula more accurately reflect students' educational needs, poverty, property tax levels, and factors that affect rural and small districts.

The House Education Committee is also considering a bill to create a similar commission on basic education funding, to ensure that it is also distributed fairly by district.

See the full Special Education Funding Commission report at bit.ly/18tIOdF.

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