School funding needs to start with the actual number of students in a district.

That’s what Jay Himes told state officials in Lancaster on Monday.

Himes, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, testified at the Basic Education Funding Commission’s public hearing at Intermediate Unit 13.

The commission was created by legislators in June to study a new way of distributing cash to Pennsylvania's 500 school districts. Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that do not have a predictable education funding formula based on student enrollment and characteristics.

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Lancaster's Sen. Lloyd Smucker and Rep. Mike Sturla are among the 12 lawmakers on the commission. Other members are representatives of the Corbett administration, such as Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq.

The commission is expected to make recommendations for a new funding system next year. In the meantime, they’re traveling to different parts of the state to gather input from school administrators and others connected to public education.

Education leaders at Monday's hearing echoed Himes.

"As the superintendent of a school district with declining enrollment, please know how hard it is for me to say this, but a formula has to be based on enrollment," said Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane.

Counting students sounds straightforward, but the challenge comes in districts like Lane's. Historically, changes to the state's funding system have maintained a "hold harmless" policy, meaning schools don't receive less money than the year before.

Scrapping that policy would likely create waves among the losing districts.

But Rep. Mike Sturla at the hearing that he cared more about ensuring fairness than avoiding decreases.

" ... If I always keep a hold harmless, and I say nobody can ever get less, it takes me longer and longer and longer to get to a fair funding formula."

Education leaders who testified Monday advocated a range of factors to include in achieving fairness. Those included poverty, tax base, number of English language learners, charter school costs and the need for mental health support services.

During the public comment period, John McGrann, of Lancaster, spoke of the funding disparities he saw when he served on the School District of Lancaster board in 2006-07. He said that as the board struggled to fund a four-school renovation project, a neighboring district spent almost twice as much money on one new building.

McGrann urged the commission to create equity between districts with differing tax bases.

The commission's next hearing is on Thursday, Dec. 4 in East Stroudsburg. There will be another Lancaster hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. The location has not been announced.

Public comments can be submitted via the commission's website.

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