The Education Trust, an independent national education policy organization, recently released a report on the nation’s growing funding inequalities between wealthy and low-income school districts. The study reveals that Pennsylvania has the second-worst funding gap among states. When adjusted for the higher needs of low-income students, Pennsylvania’s highest poverty school districts receive 17% less per student than the districts with the lowest poverty.
Figure 1: The Education Trust analysis
To understand this statistic, we need to look at how state and local funding of schools works in Pennsylvania. Currently, the commonwealth has no funding formula that distributes money based on the needs of a school district or its students. The state share of funding -- 38% -- puts us in the bottom 10 of states nationally. This is part of a long-term trend of the state paying a smaller and smaller share, leaving local communities to fund the balance. As local wealth greatly varies across the state, so does the chance that a child will receive an adequate education, which is a basic right.
Below we can see the result: Instead of having a system that matches funding with need, we have one in which the poorer a school district is, the less funding it receives. Adjusting for the higher needs of low-income students, the poorest school districts receive almost $2,500 less per student than the wealthiest districts.
Figure 2: The Education Trust analysis
This is a problem that affects the whole state when you realize how common student poverty is. In 2013-14, nearly half of all public school children in Pennsylvania, 44%, qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of student poverty. Half of all school districts had student poverty rates of 40% or higher. These funding inequalities affect the core mission of public education: to promote academic achievement and an engaged citizenry. Pennsylvania needs to return to a funding formula that gives every child a realistic chance to succeed in school and life.