About Us    |   More News
September 5, 2012

For 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 tax rates.

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 grade.

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.

Related Stories:
New York School Funding among Nation's Most Unfair
The Garden State: A Beacon of Educational Equity in the Region
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

Copyright © 2012 Education Law Center. All Rights Reserved.