Senate Bill 76: A School Defunding Formula Bill?

Sharon Ward |

The Senate Finance Committee did not take up Senate Bill 76 this week, a positive sign. The committee held a hearing on April 30 to consider an amendment that was supposed to fix the problems with the legislation, but the amendment had the opposite effect, raising even more questions about the impact of the bill on schools, communities, and businesses.

SB 76 is known by its supporters as the property tax elimination bill. But it needs a new name, one that more accurately describes both its intent and its impact: the public school decimation bill is one, or maybe the school defunding formula bill.

The case for the devastating impact of this bill on public school funding was made eloquently this week by the people who are in the trenches, representatives for the school boards and superintendents trying to hold together school budgets under the most trying of circumstances.

Their op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News highlighted the biggest problem with SB 76:

Would the tax mix proposed in SB 76 properly fund public education? The simple answer is “no” according to the Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office (IFO).

They make the obvious point that no one likes to pay property taxes and that school boards and superintendents don’t enjoy asking for them. But without a well-funded system of education, there is no economic progress, for kids or for the state.

They make a number of other great points:

  • Federal income taxes would rise for the nearly 2 million Pennsylvanians who have claimed a state/local tax deduction on their federal taxes.
  • Individuals will pay more in sales taxes on a host of goods and services.
  • Inequities in school funding would be locked in, forever.

They point out that the real culprit is the small state share of overall school funding. When the state kicks in only 34% of education costs rather than the 50% that was promised (and that so many other states manage to provide) local property owners are forced to pay more.

What we need is a school funding formula with appropriate funding, not a school defunding formula.

So far, state lawmakers seem to be doing the responsible thing, asking hard questions about SB 76 and not advancing the bill. But unless public school advocates speak out, as Nathan Mains, Jim Buckheit, Jay Himes, and Joe Bard did, that could change.