Center for Greater Philadelphia
Operation Public Education
Theodore Hershberg

Foundation Budget

In the 21st century, nothing is more essential than providing all children with the skills they need to succeed in our economy and society. So it is no surprise that public education consistently ranks as one of the most important issues to voters across the nation.

In order to ensure that every school can meet the challenge, states must wrestle with three related questions: Adequacy - How much does it cost to provide every child with a quality education? Equity - What portion of these funds should be provided by the state, and what share should come from local taxes? Accountability - How should educators be held accountable for student learning, so the public can have confidence that its investment will produce results for the state's children?

A Foundation Budget provides the answer to the first of these questions. It is entirely different from how we usually talk about school funding. Instead of focusing only on the numbers - how much the most "successful" schools spend, the gap between wealthy and poor districts, etc. - the Foundation Budget shifts the debate over funding to what matters most: the ingredients of a quality education.

The Foundation Budget starts with a blank page and adds up all the costs that go into education. We can think of the budget as a formula that begins with the number of students, asks what resources they need in order to learn and for their schools to function, and then calculates how much it costs. The budget is based on research, expertise from educators, and best practices.

With support from the business community and major foundations, Operation Public Education launched its own yearlong process to identify the educational priorities that a Pennsylvania Foundation Budget should include. To gather information, OPE convened four regional focus groups of principals, teachers, superintendents, school board members, and business representatives from across the state and then prioritized the focus groups' recommendations.

Participants spoke with great consistency about the ingredients of a high-quality education and the special provisions necessary to give low-income students the extra academic resources they need. Several themes for improving schools emerged. They were intended as a guide to help the public understand how funding matters and to aid policy-makers in prioritizing educational choices in a world of scarce resources.

OPE's Foundation Budget (see documents below) was completed in April 2002 and unveiled in a process that included briefings for legislators, education advocates, and business leaders, and a Harrisburg press conference. In September 2002, the House Select Committee endorsed the Foundation Budget as one of two ways to determine the cost of educating a child.

The budget called for a 22 percent increase, or $2.783 billion, over education spending across the state in the 1999-2000 school year. This included an average increase of $1,434 per student statewide for K-12 and $190 million for pre-school for low-income children. Other budget items included small class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, extra instructional time for struggling students, additional professional development for teachers, teacher coaches, funds for technology and instructional materials, and full-day kindergarten for all of the state's low-income students and thousands more children.

Although the debate over adequate and equitable school funding in Pennsylvania is still continuing, OPE's evidence-based approach to school funding sets forth a template that can be used in other states to transform the dialogue over school funding. The Foundation Budget shifts the debate from arguments over more or less resources to questions of what spending is most likely to be effective and why. With a Foundation Budget, we can truly address how "investment with accountability" can improve our schools.

Foundation Budget Documents

For more information about the Foundation Budget please consult:

© 2004 Center for Greater Philadelphia