From 1996 until 2012, the Cameron County School District in northcentral Pennsylvania saw its number of students drop from 1,169 to fewer than 700.
Still, the district continued to receive more funding from the state for its students — $3.3 million over the past two decades — to the point where its per pupil funding increased 204 percent even as it lost 40 percent of its student body.
Over the same 17-year period, Central York's enrollment jumped 57 percent to 5,900 students.
And while funding has gone up, it amounts to a 38 percent increase on a per pupil basis.
The result: The Cameron County School District ranks 10th in Pennsylvania in the amount of state funding received per pupil, at $10,774. Central York ranks 480th out of 500 school districts at $2,449 per pupil.
That disparity is why York County school officials say it's again time to push state legislators to balance the way schools receive state funding.
Central York's school board recently adopted a resolution urging legislators to rework the funding formula for public education, a change they say is long overdue to ease the burden on local taxpayers.
The Dallastown Area school board unanimously did the same, asking local legislators to revisit education funding this year, and York Suburban's school board is considering signing a similar document.
Necessary action: Kristin Phillips-Hill, chairwoman of Dallastown's policy committee and the member who drafted the resolution, said the board decided to act in hope they can be a part of a statewide call to action.
This isn't the first time school officials have called for a new formula.
The framework for the existing formula has been in place since the 1991-1992 session of the state Legislature, said Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township.
The state had a budget shortfall that year and decided to eliminate funding for schools based on student enrollment. The state enacted "hold harmless" legislation, meaning schools would be guaranteed not to receive less money than they did the year before.
Essentially, state money based on enrollment froze in 1992.
In the years that followed, several schools in other parts of the state saw dropped enrollment rates, but not a drop in funds. School districts in other areas, including York County, grew, but with no related increase in state funding.
Phillips-Hill said the lack of support from the state means local taxpayers have been asked to pick up the tab to balance school budgets.
The data: In York County from 1995-96 until the 2011-12 school year — the range of data available from the state Department of Education — enrollment increased in all but three districts.
Five districts have grown by 20 percent or more. The highest any of those districts ranks in terms of per pupil funding is Northeastern at number 329; York Suburban is 494th out of 500 districts in terms of per pupil state funding.
Meanwhile, every one of the top 10 districts in the state in terms of per pupil funding showed a drop in enrollment since 1995-96.
In all but one case, the student enrollment declined by at least 20 percent.
The call for change isn't just local.
This year, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association is encouraging its members to draft a resolution similar to the one Dallastown and Central York passed. The organization believes funding has been an issue for "quite a while" and is hoping a unified nudge from across the state will encourage lawmakers to look at proposed legislation, said Steve Robinson, spokesman for the association.
"As districts' budgets get tighter, as funding becomes more of an issue, it makes sense to make sure that the dollars for public education are distributed fairly," Robinson said.
Possible change: Phillips-Hill said one proposed bill, if passed, would create a commission to investigate how the funding formula can be reworked. Republican Rep. Bernie O'Neill, of Bucks County, wrote House Bill 1738, which passed the House and is now in the Senate.
O'Neill said the bill sets up some parameters for a commission, which will have one year to investigate state funding of public schools and hear from people who have a vested interest in the issue, he said.
"It's going to be very complex; it's going to be very hotly debated," O'Neill said.
Local legislators, like several school board members, said action for funding reform is long overdue. Grove, who voted in favor of the bill, agreed it is a necessary but difficult process.
"There's a lot that goes on across the state," Grove said, such as disparities in district poverty levels and local tax bases. "And it's hard to sit down and say, 'This is fair.'"
Solution in the works: Grove said one possible starting point is to assign the same amount of money per student, regardless of other factors. Then the commission could work on weighting subjective factors. At the very least, Grove said, the fluctuation of education funding from year to year needs to become more consistent.
Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon/Dauphin/York, is the chairman of the Senate's education committee, where the bill is located.
Folmer said it will take some time to prepare for a vote on the bill because the committee is working to make sure the details are ready. Folmer said he supports the bill and that it's possible it will move in the Senate during this session.
"This is going to be Herculean," Folmer said. "And it has to be done."
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.