Report: Pennsylvania Suffers from a ‘Devastatingly Large’ Education Funding Gap

Apr 2, 2015

Pennsylvania tied with Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Illinois for the fourth lowest percentage of state funds that are provided per student.
Credit The State of Funding Equity in Pennsylvania / The Education Trust

Pennsylvania has the third largest education funding gap in the nation between districts with the highest and lowest poverty rates.

That’s according to a new report from the Education Trust, an education policy organization, which called this gap “devastatingly large.”

“It’s another piece of evidence to indicate that we have a real problem with the school funding system here in Pennsylvania,” Patrick Dowd, executive director of Allies for Children, said.  Allies for Children is one of more than 50 organizations that have united for the Campaign for Fair Education Funding.

According to the Education Trust’s report, the state contributes about 38 percent of the total dollars spent per student for public education.  Pennsylvania’s 2014-15 budget included more than $5 billion for basic education.

“Pennsylvania ranks fourth from the bottom as far as the state share of money contributed to local school districts, so the state share providing education in each of the local school districts,” Dowd said.

That means the remainder of the funds is coming from local revenue, according to Dowd.

“Our school districts rely on property taxes, and because we have uneven values across the commonwealth and from one district to the next,” Dowd said. “And typically, high-poverty districts tend to have lower property values.  That means the amount of money the district can spend on educating its children is less, or there’s an inequality across these different districts.”

The report showed the highest poverty rate districts in the commonwealth receive about $1,200 less per student than those with the lowest rate.  That figure doubles if you take into account the additional needs of low-income students such as tutoring and remedial work – making Pennsylvania’s gap the second largest in the country.

“Ultimately that means there are fewer dollars in those districts where we know those kids will need it more,” Dowd said. “And that means that their outcomes over the near future and over the long haul are going to be diminished, and we want to figure out how to provide adequate funding and equitable funding across the commonwealth, so those outcomes can improve.”

He said the Duquesne, Wilkinsburg and Sto-Rox districts are among those with high poverty levels.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding proposed a formula in February it believes accounts for the needs of schools and students, and the Basic Education Funding Commission, which was created by the state legislature in June 2014, plans to release its proposal for a formula this June.