Third and State
Last November, the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) released a policy brief on how money matters in school funding, especially in large, urban school districts. This brief defines adequate school funding and shows that school districts with large funding gaps are low-achievement and high-poverty. It also shows that large urban schools can be efficient. Below are the three things you need to know about public school funding in Pennsylvania:
1. More than $3.5 Billion Needed for Adequate Funding
For any school to achieve, it must receive fair and sufficient funding. However, 84% of school districts in Pennsylvania do not meet the mark. The gap between this fair and sufficient funding level and what schools are actually spending is the adequacy gap. In 2009-10, the additional funding needed to close this gap across the state was $3.55 billion [or $3.88 billion in 2015 inflation-adjusted dollars].
This translates into an average district-level adequacy gap of $1,559 per pupil. Considering the funding inequalities at the district level, CPRE found that the quarter of school districts serving the largest share of low-income students had an average adequacy gap six times larger than the quarter of school districts serving the smallest share: $2,416 vs. $442 per pupil.
2. Largest Adequacy Gaps found in Highest-Poverty and Lowest-Achieving Districts
The schools dealing with the highest number of low-income students suffer from the steepest adequacy gaps. It’s no surprise then to see that their school districts are also low achieving. When CPRE looked at the 25 poorest school districts it found that their greater needs are not met with adequate funding:
- Excluding Philadelphia, the school districts, on average, had an adequacy gap of $2,608 per pupil in 2009-10. On average, they spent 84% of what was needed to prepare their students to achieve state standards.
- Philadelphia had an adequacy gap of $5,478 per pupil in 2009-10, more than double the average gap of the other 24 highest-poverty school districts, even though the city’s school district serves the same share of low-income students. On average, Philadelphia had only spent 68% of what was needed to educate its students to achieve state standards.
3. Despite Less Funding Philadelphia Outperformed Its Low-Income Peers
Despite this funding discrepancy, Philadelphia schools outperformed other high-poverty schools. Looking at the achievement outcomes of the 25 highest-poverty schools, CPRE found that Philadelphia students performed “slightly better” in math and English language arts (ELA). Philadelphia earned 15% greater achievement per dollar than other high-poverty schools.
This policy brief helps justify the push to restore state funding of our public schools after years of cuts. When school districts in low-income neighborhoods lose state funding they often cannot replace that funding on the local level, resulting in adequacy gaps. For these gaps to disappear funding should meet need. Only then can all children in public schools be prepared to achieve.
The Washington Post ran a story on March 12 about unequal education funding between the haves and have-nots in America. Because children in low-income families have greater needs, the schools they attend require more funding to give them a fair chance at educational success. However, 23 states give low-income schools less state and local funding than the wealthiest of school districts, fueling even more inequality.
Pennsylvania ranks the worst by far among states in this inequity. Pennsylvania also is one of just three states without a predictable funding formula for basic education. The Campaign for Fair Education Funding, of which the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is a member, has proposed a student-driven funding formula that strategically directs resources to students and school districts with the greatest needs and provides the investment necessary to enable every child to succeed academically.
Gov. Tom Wolf has also proposed a funding formula and a significant investment in basic education in his 2015-16 state budget plan.
Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center Research Director Mike Wood revealed the flawed arithmetic behind the Commonwealth Foundation’s “analysis” of the tax impact of the Wolf budget plan in his blog post this week “Budget Critics’ Stupid Math Tricks.” CF made an error in adding up the total taxes in the first year (whoops!) and included all corporation taxes as part of what families pay (huh?). CF claimed that families would pay more under the Wolf plan -- without actually analyzing the impact of the plan on any real families. Neat trick! In fact, most families in the school districts that receive the largest tax relief are likely to see lower taxes as well as many families in other communities. Given the size and targeting of the property tax relief most homeowners earning up to $100,000 may benefit – as the Wolf Administration claims. But don’t worry. We’ll check their math too.
Fighting amnesia on pensions … In an op-ed published this week in The Patriot-News and on Pennlive.com, and in a new pension “primer,” Keystone Research Center Executive Director Stephen Herzenberg reminded legislators who want to move employees toward a 401(k)-style plan that Gov. Corbett made this proposal just two years ago. Actuaries for the state’s pension plans estimated this would cost $42 billion. And that’s just one of the problems with the idea.
Borrowing revenue-boosting ideas … Jan Jarrett outlined in a blog post and email blast just how similar some of Gov. Wolf’s revenue proposals – such as personal income and sales tax increases – are to Republican plans introduced last legislative session. So how come they are already disagreeing?
Doing wonders for the state budget … KRC and PBPC released a joint brief showing that Pennsylvania could generate up to $6.9 billion in revenue if top income groups paid the same state and local tax rate as middle-income Pennsylvanians. Tax Fairness: An Answer to Pennsylvania’s Budget Problems found that if the highest-income one percent of taxpayers were taxed at the same rate as the middle 20 percent, Pennsylvania could raise $3.75 billion per year. And if the top 20 percent of income-earners paid the same as the middle 20 percent, Pennsylvania could raise $6.93 billion per year.
“Revenue lost because of the one-two punch of rising income inequality and regressive state tax codes has led states to impose years of unnecessary austerity — underfunding schools, cutting investments in higher education, and deferring maintenance of aging infrastructure,” KRC Executive Director Dr. Stephen Herzenberg noted. “After 30 years of a middle-class squeeze, it’s time to restore balance.”
Gov. Wolf’s property tax relief targeted to middle- and lower-income communities is one way to make progress on tax fairness.
Reforming cyber school funding … PBPC education analyst Waslala Miranda blogged on Gov. Wolf’s plan to reform cyber school funding. She says all public school students stand to gain under the plan.
Testifying for a higher minimum wage … KRC labor economist Dr. Mark Price testified in Philadelphia again in support of raising Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10, this time before the House Democratic Policy Committee. Mark told them that a higher minimum wage will increase the wages of 1.2 million Pennsylvanians and create 6,000 new jobs.
Going fast … Registrations continue to surge for PBPC’s 2015 Budget Summit on March 25 at the Hilton Harrisburg. Space is filling up fast. So if you want to hear the keynote address by Gov. Wolf’s Chief of Staff Katie McGinty, you should register ASAP.
This may be a first for an economist. A map based on a report by our very own Mark Price -- the Increasingly Unequal States of America -- made the Sports Illustrated blog at the end of last week. Fortunately, it was not accompanied by a picture of Mark on the beach during his recent work-related trips (yes, plural) to Miami.