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Schools funding commission closing in on deadline

A panel tasked with creating a fairer way of doling out state funding to school districts in Pennsylvania is expected to wrap up its work in early June, just weeks before the state budget deadline, when lawmakers expect a crush of issues to crowd the negotiation table.

For the past year, the Basic Education Funding Commission has spent the past year studying funding methods and developing its suggestions for funding Pennsylvania education -- a system with the largest gap between rich and poor school districts of any state in the country.

"From what I hear, they're really doing some good work and should come up with their findings within a few weeks," said Governor Tom Wolf, who has also proposed a large tax shift to bump up state aid to school districts.

Even one of Wolf's emerging political adversaries, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), said he also hopes the panel's recommendations yield a speedy deal on divvying up state funding.

"Nobody's really happy with the current formula," Scarnati said.

Some take a sour view of the commission.

Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) said he's not counting on the panel's work to achieve what he's seeking: more funding for schools.

"I don't think there's any consensus until it's done -- until it's seen, until we see it," said Hughes.

Parents and school officials who have sued the commonwealth and legislative leaders over education funding say they don't just need a better formula - they need a bigger share of state aid.

"Without a commitment to determining the full amount schools need, the Commission will not address the issue posed by our lawsuit," said Michael Churchill, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, arguing on behalf of the advocates suing the commonwealth.

The case is headed to Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, after the Commonwealth Court ruled last week that the matter should be left to the Legislature.

Edit: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote from Michael Churchill to Barbara Grimaldi.

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