decades, Pennsylvania has severely shortchanged funding for public school children
in the state's low-wealth, high poverty cities and rural communities. In 2008,
however, the Legislature took the bold and historic step of enacting a new,
fairer school funding formula, designed to boost state aid in districts serving
high percentages of disadvantaged students and those with the highest property
Unfortunately, the Commonwealth has walked away from the 2008 formula, under
the administration of Governor Corbett, and abruptly ended its commitment to
fair and equitable funding for the state's most needy students.
The 2012 edition of the National Report Card on state school funding -- "Is
School Funding Fair" – documents the condition of Pennsylvania’s
school finance system. The National Report Card, coauthored by Bruce Baker
of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, David Sciarra, Executive Director
of Education Law Center (ELC), and Danielle Farrie, Research Director for
ELC, analyzes the "fairness" of school funding in the 50 states.
"Fair" school funding is defined as a system that ensures equal
educational opportunity by providing a sufficient level of funding distributed
to districts to account for the additional needs generated by student poverty.
The Report Card evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, "fairness
indicators" – funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal
effort, and public school "coverage," which measures the extent to
which school age children attend public schools.
Pennsylvania performs above average on funding level and effort, but is among
the worst on funding distribution and coverage. While having a higher-than-average
funding level, overall, Pennsylvania continues to distribute funding unfairly
to districts across the state. A small number of extremely well-funded suburban
school districts drive up the state’s average overall funding level,
masking an underlying inequity in the allocation of those funds.
The funding inequity among Pennsylvania school districts is stark. High poverty
cities, towns, and rural districts spend, on average, only 89 cents for every
dollar spent in the state’s low poverty suburbs.
More specifically, Pennsylvania’s above average funding level is due
largely to high spending in the Philadelphia suburbs. For example, the affluent
Philadelphia suburb of Lower Merion, a district with 4% student poverty, has
state and local revenue totaling nearly $27,000 per pupil. Right next door,
students in Philadelphia public schools, with six times the poverty rate of
Merion, have only half of the per pupil funding made available to Merion students.
Students in Reading, a former industrial city with a 37% poverty rate, one
of the highest in the state, receive $10,307 per pupil while students attending
school in the neighboring suburb of Wyomissing, with just 8% poverty rate,
receive $15,843 per pupil.
On the coverage indicator, Pennsylvania has a large number of school age children,
17%, that attend religious or secular private schools, or are homeschooled.
The families of these students are wealthier, leaving the public schools to
serve a disproportionately larger number of disadvantaged children.
The unfairness of Pennsylvania’s school funding has been exacerbated
by Governor Corbett’s $990 million cut in state aid in 2012, wiping out
gains made in 2009 and 2010 under the landmark 2008 funding formula. The 2013
state budget increased school aid by a paltry $50 million to selected districts,
restoring a small fraction of the cuts from the previous year.
The dire condition of school funding in Pennsylvania is taking its toll on
students across the Commonwealth, especially in high poverty school districts.
Philadelphia faces huge budget deficits and the prospect of massive layoffs
and school closures. Chester-Upland is near bankruptcy, and the State has taken
control. Several other districts are facing the same fate. And, the Legislature
has enacted a program to allow even more state funds to flow to private and
religious schools, further eroding support for investing in and strengthening
public schools serving the state’s poorest communities.
The bottom line: when it comes to ensuring all children the resources needed
to graduate high school ready for college and career, Pennsylvania gets a failing
Visit the website, "Is
School Funding Fair? A National Report Card," for the
complete Report and Executive Summary. The website also features new interactive
data reports and links to the 2010 edition of the report.