By State Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna)
Could it be that Gov. Tom Wolf’s visit to the Northern Tier in September of last year has already slipped his mind. Last fall, his office issued a press release, quoting him as saying: “It is important that smaller and rural communities know state government is listening to them and affirming their important role in our Commonwealth.”
It seems he’s quickly forgotten us.
Late last month, while visiting Philadelphia, the governor announced that he wants every dollar of state education funding – money you pay through income, sales, inheritance and corporate taxes – to be funneled through the Fair Funding Formula that was put in place in 2015-16 as a way to help balance out education funding statewide.
Currently, only new education increases since 2014 are calculated this way – solely because of rural areas like ours. To implement this funding formula using 100 percent of state aid would literally bankrupt most of our rural schools. In fact, 357 of the state’s 500 public school districts would LOSE out on state funding.
Based on state Basic Education subsidies from the most recent 2017-18 academic year, take a look at how much state funding our local schools would lose:
• Athens Area -- $3.8 million, or 32 percent.
• Canton Area -- $3.7 million, or 53 percent.
• Elk Lake -- $4.2 million, or 46 percent.
• Montrose Area -- $4.9 million, or 62 percent.
• Mountain View -- $3.4 million, or 64 percent.
• Northeast Bradford -- $3.4 million, or 57 percent.
• Sayre Area -- $2.5 million, or 42 percent.
• Sullivan County -- $71,989, or 3 percent.
• Towanda Area -- $1.9 million, or 28 percent.
• Troy Area -- $5.4 million, or 59 percent.
• Wyalusing Area -- $3.5 million, or 51 percent.
That money – which makes up a large chunk of school districts’ budgets – would either have to be made up through local property taxes or schools would have to go without. Neither is a viable option.
Where would that funding be directed instead? Using funds dispersed from the most recent 2018-19 state budget, the increase to the School District of Philadelphia alone would total more than $330 million. Several school districts in growing districts would receive increases sometimes doubling their current appropriation.
I appreciate the fact that growing school districts need more support from the state. But I also fight for my home communities, and I fight to ensure that your voice is as loud and convincing as those from other parts of the state.
When the Fair Funding Formula was adopted, those of us in rural areas stressed the fact that many of our districts are declining in population and that we have higher than average rates of poverty. We successfully made our point. To push more of the burden on local property taxpayers would cripple our communities, drive more people from our communities and result in subpar education quality. We can’t afford that.
I implore Gov. Wolf to change his mind and to keep the funding formula as it is. He needs to keep his promise to the people of rural Pennsylvania that they matter. Because they do.
Representative Tina Pickett
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton