by Andrea Sears, Public News Service
for The Post Publications
PHILADELPHIA PA – Years of underfunding Pennsylvania’s public schools has led to inequalities that affect low-income school districts and communities of color, according to a report released last week by the Philadelphia-based Education Law Center, a private, not-for-profit public interest law firm that says it advocates for the rights of public school students.
The March 7 (2017; Tuesday) report, titled “Money Matters in Education Justice,” claims the Keystone State ranks 46th in the nation for state share of revenue for public schools. Pennsylvania is one of only 14 states with what it labeled as a regressive funding system, giving the fewest resources to the poorest schools with the highest needs.
That has led to glaring racial disparities in education funding, according to Deborah Gordon Klehr, the center’s executive director.
“Schools with large populations of students of color receive less per-pupil funding overall than schools with a larger white-student population, and they’re also shouldering higher local tax burdens,” Klehr said. The report cites research showing schools with the fewest white students receive almost $2,000 a year less per pupil.
Pennsylvania during 2016 adopted a fair-funding formula designed to distribute state education dollars more equitably. But, as Klehr points out, that formula only applies to new state spending. “Of the $5.9 billion the state spends on basic education funding, only about 6 percent of that is sent through the formula,” she added.
The center charges that children in many communities are being shortchanged and, to address the inequalities, the state needs to significantly increase school funding overall. Data from the Pennsylvania Department Education and other studies estimate the Commonwealth should increase education spending by between $3 billion and $4.5 billion a year.
Klehr notes that the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees all children will have access to a “thorough and efficient” system of public education. “Despite this constitutional mandate, many children, especially children of color and children in low-income communities, are not given the necessary educational tools for success,” she said.
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