Education Law Center releases new PA school funding report highlighting racial and class inequities
State needs to both increase funding levels and distribute dollars more fairly
March 7 2017 – As the General Assembly debates Pennsylvania’s education budget for next year, the Education Law Center released a report today highlighting how persistent state underfunding of schools has entrenched widespread inequities and inequalities, particularly in schools that serve lower-income families and large numbers of students of color.
The report, entitled “Money Matters in Education Justice: Addressing Race and Class Inequities in Pennsylvania’s Public School System,” finds that school districts across the Commonwealth suffer from persistent funding shortfalls that make it impossible for them to provide their students with basic and essential resources and supports they need to succeed academically.
“Although the Pennsylvania Constitution requires the General Assembly to maintain and support a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education’ to benefit Pennsylvania’s children, our new report clearly shows that this constitutional mandate has been ignored for too long, to the great detriment of our children,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “New investments in state education aid over the past several years are welcome but remain insufficient to compensate for decades of inequity and inadequacy.”
The report highlights Pennsylvania’s school funding system as deficient with regard to both fairly distributing state education dollars and the total amount allocated to serve students.
Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation in state share of education funding; only four states provide a lower share of revenues to their public schools. Accordingly, Pennsylvania is overly reliant on local funding to support its schools, deepening the divide between high-wealth and low-income school districts. Pennsylvania is one of only 14 states that “regressively” funds it public school systems — meaning that its poorest schools with the highest need receive the fewest resources.
The report also highlights large-scale racial disparities in education spending.
“Pennsylvania school districts with above-average populations of students of color receive less state funding per-pupil than districts with above-average white populations, even when both districts have similar levels of poverty,” the report said. The report cites to a study showing that Pennsylvania schools with the fewest white students are shortchanged by almost $2,000 per pupil. PA schools are also profoundly segregated: the ELC report highlights research showing that Pennsylvania is home to six of America’s 50 most starkly segregated school district borders, which separate wealthy, predominantly white districts from under-resourced schools that serve their mostly non-white neighbors.
The report calls for the state to change course and to enact increased funding designed to remedy these inequities. The report cites Pennsylvania Department of Education data, as well as other recent research, to conclude that the Commonwealth must spend more than $3 billion a year to allow schools to provide adequate levels of services, staff, course curricula, facilities and other needed supports. This funding must be distributed in a manner that supports the students who need the most. While the state adopted a bipartisan basic education funding formula in 2015, the formula only applies to new education dollars, or merely 6 percent of the basic education budget. About 94 percent of the state’s basic education funding is still distributed in ways that reinforce inequality.
“Pennsylvania children have been suffering under an unfair funding system for far too long,” Klehr said. “It is going to take years of sustained investment and targeted support to change course and provide our students — particularly children in poverty and children of color — with the tools they need to succeed. This report provides compelling evidence of the importance of strategic educational investments and the scale of the challenges our students face.”
The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information visit https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.