Smucker Condemns Wolf’s Unconstitutional Use of Arbitrary School Funding Formula

HARRISBURG (April 7, 2016) – Senate Education Committee Chairman Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) called on Gov. Tom Wolf to apply the new fair funding formula developed to divide new money equitably among 500 school districts, instead of the arbitrary, politically-driven formula that Wolf single-handedly chose, which disproportionately favors Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In ignoring the universally acclaimed formula developed after 15 hearings and 15 months of study by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission (BEFC)  – a formula which Gov. Wolf himself endorsed nine months ago – the governor chose to embark on a constitutionally questionable path that unilaterally imposes a formula of his own, Sen. Smucker said.

The Wolf construct, which he calls a “restoration formula,” hurts 428 of 500 school districts and costs schools in Sen. Smucker’s Senatorial District alone $3.365 million, budget figures show.  Moreover, it raises important questions of constitutionality as it defies the “separation of powers” provided for under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“In the school districts I represent, for example, all but one school district will suffer a cut under the so-called Wolf ‘restoration’ formula,” Smucker said.

The breakdown below quantifies the fiscal harm inflicted upon Lancaster-area school districts in Sen. Smucker’s Senatorial District, when comparing the fair funding formula to the Wolf formula:

  • Conestoga Valley would be cut $404,821.
  • Lampeter Strasburg would be cut $158,240.
  • Lancaster SD would be cut $1,906,014.
  • Manheim Central would be cut $92,619.
  • Manheim Township would be cut $380,351.
  • Penn Manor would be cut $198,209.
  • Pequea Valley would be cut $64,586.
  • Solanco would be cut $160,246.

“Since the proposal to develop a new fair funding formula was first passed in 2014, a distribution methodology based on evidence and data was our goal, to keep politics, randomness and unpredictability out of the equation. These numbers highlight the reason we embarked upon this quest and spell out the inequities in a striking way,” Smucker said.

“Wolf’s scheme sends money to a few hand-picked districts at the expense of almost every other district in the Commonwealth. It underscores the reason why we need an objective, data-driven formula, based on the quantifiable factors that drive the cost of education,” he added.

This latest debate was prompted by questions about how the additional $200 million in basic education funding, appropriated by the combined Dec. 29 General Appropriations Act and the March 28 supplemental appropriation, will be distributed.  The budget enacted before Easter for 2015-2016 states that new funding “may not be expended until enabling legislation to distribute funding for payment of basic education funding for the 2015-2016 fiscal year is enacted.”

To meet this budget requirement, on Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation authored by Sen. Smucker, Senate Bill 910, which codifies the new basic education funding formula, and fulfills the language of the budget requirement.

“Because Gov. Wolf vetoed the fair funding formula in the Fiscal Code, and the budget requires a formula, he cannot legally create his own arbitrary formula out of thin air,” Smucker said. “Senate Bill 910 will apply the fair formula agreed to in June of last year.”

Wolf Administration spreadsheets show that approximately 50 percent of the additional $200 million goes to three school districts under the Wolf formula: the School District of Philadelphia ($76.8 million more), Chester-Upland School District ($16.3 million more) and Pittsburgh School District ($7.5 million more).

“Wolf is picking his own personal winners and losers in driving out this education money,” Smucker said. “The governor has blatantly ignored the will of the Legislature and the bipartisan basic education funding formula that would have finally brought fairness and equity to our public schools,” said Smucker, who served on the BEFC.

Senate Bill 910 may be voted on next week, but will still need House approval before going to the Governor. The bill has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The Administration favored this fair funding formula, before opposing it.  It is an about-face that hurts our kids, and that must be reversed in the name of fairness,” Smucker said.

 

CONTACT:  Diane McNaughton

dmmcnaughton@pasen.gov

(717) 787-6535