For PA School Districts, the Rich Get Richer & the Poor Get Poorer

Waslala Miranda |

According to an Associated Press analysis, the gap between the haves and have-nots in public schools grew much worse during Gov. Corbett’s time in office.  In the past four years, as Corbett cut state aid to schools, the gap more than doubled.  The current gap is so severe that, according to one study, Pennsylvania is among the worst states in the country at providing equal funding.

AP found at least a $1B gap between the haves and the have-nots.  Here is a breakdown of that huge gap: Districts in the top half of the income bracket spent, on average, about $1,800 more per student in 2014-15, a $1,060 increase since 2010-11.

·      Districts in the top 20% of the income bracket will spend about $4,000 more per student in 2014-15 than the poorest districts, a $2,300 increase since 2010-11.

How did Pennsylvania get so bad?  Critics believe that the school funding system is to blame, specifically the relatively small share of state aid given to school districts even prior to the budget cuts.  This shifts the funding burden to local taxes to pick up the slack.  While wealthier districts were able to do so, poor school districts were left financially stranded.  Without additional help and facing long-delayed pension payments, poor districts were forced to cut classroom spending. 


Gov. Corbett failed to win re-election from voters in November, many of whom listed education as their top priority.  Acting secretary of education Carolyn Dumaresq says he didn’t deserve the blame for the vast inequalities among school districts, which she sees as caused by the choices of individual districts.  But in a school funding system that shifts the burden from state aid to local property taxes, poor districts have fewer choices.

This growing problem should be a top priority for the incoming legislature and governor.  Already, Governor-Elect Wolf has pledged to significantly increase the state share of school funding.  However, considering that it could take an additional $1.5 billion just to bring the bottom half of our schools up to level funding with the rest, it will be a difficult challenge for Pennsylvania.