Public education funding has become “the single most important priority” for voters in Pennsylvania, political pollster Terry Madonna said during a Tuesday teleconference unveiling results of his new survey.
A large majority of those surveyed see a strong connection between education funding and economic development.
Madonna joined representatives from five school-related organizations to tout findings in the “Terry Madonna Opinion Research’s Spring 2014 Omnibus Survey.” Madonna and the others highlighted four findings:
• 84 percent of voters polled believe public schools have a “very strong” or “some” effect on economic development.
• 71 percent said the state needs to make “much larger” or “somewhat larger” investment in public schools.
• 67 percent said schools with higher numbers of impoverished students should “definitely” or “probably” receive more state funding.
• 72 percent said they “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” using a fair school funding formula.
Madonna said this poll and others in the last two years make it clear education has risen high on the list of voter concerns. He also noted the “intensity” of responses: In all questions more people chose the stronger of the two answers (“very strong” versus “somewhat” for example).
Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials Executive Director Jay Hines noted Pennsylvania is one of only three states that does not have a funding formula, thanks to the Legislature’s decision to scrap a formula adopted under Gov. Ed Rendell.
That formula looked at district enrollment, percentages of English language learners and low-income students, among other factors, in an effort to assure equitable funding to all districts. It was being phased in over a six-year period and was repealed after three years, Hines said.
The current system, Hines said, simply takes the amount a district received in the previous year and doles out limited “supplements” to a handful of districts. “A lot can happen in a district over time, but the whole process now says we’re not going to address changes in student population and changes in student demographics.”
Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools Executive Directors Joe Bard said the lack of a formula coupled with the Legislature’s habit of passing a budget at the last minute June 30 leaves districts in the dark when planning their own spending.
“Superintendents are not just faced with not knowing what they are going to get until the end of June,” Bard said, “they don’t know how the money will be distributed.”
Hugh Dwyer, the head of the Central Pennsylvania Education Coalition, likened the uncertainty in the current state budgeting system to a poor family struggling paycheck to paycheck. School districts, particularly small ones, “don’t know if a check is going to come in, and don’t know if it’s going to be smaller or larger than the last one.”
The phone survey of 800 participants has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.