Penn Brief on PA School Funding Policy: Three Things You Need to Know

Waslala Miranda |

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 effective.  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.