Public Schools

School Underfunding Measured by Public Interest Law Center


We are well aware that many students aren't being well served by our public schools. Educating some children ends up more difficult and more expensive than the others. We all know that not every district can raise and spend exactly the same amount of cash on their students. But we don't often know what it would really cost to correctly fund public education and overcome the barriers placed before students in low-income communities.

The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia just released a study that fills within the missing data for that State of Pennsylvania. They discovered that over the state, public schools would need to gain increased funding which is between $16.5 billion and $18.6 billion if they were to ensure that every child could meet state standards.

The PILC study took a formula previously developed by a state commission charged to look at the cost of educating various cohorts of students. The formula considered the \”increased requirement for helpful information on: students living in poverty; English foreign language learners; students in charters; and, school districts in sparse or rural areas with lower enrollment.\” PILC applied the formula using actual enrollment data to build up a projected cost that would support an educational program that gave each student all the needed supports to meet the state's desired outcomes. They also determined when responsibility for raising the extra funds were shared following the current Pennsylvania pattern, $3.2 and $4.3 billion could be necessary for new state funding, using the balance originating from local district resources. Placing this amount in context, Pennsylvania's proposed total 2021-2021 general fund budget is $32.7 billion.

With a target for providing for the needs of all students, including the most disadvantaged, up for grabs, how realistic is finding these new monies? In the immediate reactions towards the PILC recommendations, the desire isn't there.

Recognizing that this was too large an invoice to be paid in a single year, PILC lowered the hurdle by recommending taking eight years to increase the funding levels. But even that pace seems past the will from the state's political leadership. In an interview, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf asserted even carrying this out in eight $400 million steps was politically impossible. Proving his point, Jenn Kocher, a Republican legislative spokesperson, said, \”They're making an assumption more money tends to buy a better education, and we haven't seen proof of that.\”

Despite these protestations, we all know that educational funding levels matter. The Education Law Center's 2021 Funding Report Card found \”low rankings on educational funding fairness correlate to poor state performance on key indicators of essential education resources, including less access to early childhood education, non-competitive wages for teachers, and better teacher-to-pupil ratios.\”

Pennsylvania is not an outlier on the issue of properly funding its children's education. Similar computations of what's actually needed came up with similar results: \”In a 2011 report, the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center estimated that schools are underfunded by at least $2 billion.\”

The alternative approach to locating the will to boost the funds that are required had been to address the differences between what wealthy districts and poorer districts actually spend and then try to reallocate resources so the most disadvantage students get a larger share from the budget. But these efforts run also end up encountering gale force political winds.

Liz King, director of education policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights recently challenged policymakers, asking, \”When could it be ever okay to invest less cash around the education of poor children than we invest in the education of non-poor children?\” Unfortunately, in many states, the reply is \”always.\”-Martin Levine

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