Scranton school directors plan to strengthen fight for fair funding from state

Feb. 17—When it comes to fair education funding, it's time to fight.

With the Scranton School District facing a funding inequity of more than $3,200 per student and the issue now in the spotlight thanks to the governor's budget proposal, school directors said they will increase advocacy efforts and community involvement.

"Each one of us can have a voice, but it's more powerful when we can come across as a united force," board Vice President Catherine Fox said during a virtual funding workshop Tuesday night.

Volunteers from the Pennsylvanians for Fair Funding coalition outlined why many advocates call the state's funding system the worst in the country. Those issues include using district demographics from 1992 to distribute nearly 90% of state funding, and the over reliance on local property taxes, which leads to large disparities in funding in high-wealth and low-wealth districts.

Pennsylvania created a fair funding formula six years ago to distribute money in a way that reflects a district's needs, factoring in student enrollment, the needs of the student population and district wealth and capacity to raise local revenues. But that formula only applies to new investments the state makes in basic education funding. In his 2021-22 budget proposal this month, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed putting all funding through the formula. Since that would cause more than half of the state's 500 districts to receive a lower allotment, Wolf seeks another $1.15 billion so no school receives less next year. The proposal is funded through an increase in the personal income tax rate.

The Scranton School District would see an additional $39 million next year, which leaders have said could increase academic opportunities, help attract and retain a highly-qualified staff, update buildings and lower property taxes.

Laura Johnson, a Pottstown School Board member and an organizer of the fair funding coalition, spoke about the tough decisions made in her district — about the size of Scranton and facing many of the same funding challenges. The public needs to understand that Scranton faces cuts and other tough decisions largely due to the lack of equitable funding from the state, directors said.

In recent years, some school directors and taxpayers started petitions, contacted lawmakers and discussed a rally in Harrisburg. It's time to strengthen efforts, directors said.

"Now more than ever, the spotlight is on us," Director Sean McAndrew said. "We have a powerful voice. If we can do it together ... we can really make some noise and get what we deserve."

Contact the writer:; 570-348-9133;

@hofiushallTT on Twitter.