Monday, June 22nd, I was blessed to join some of my United Church of Christ family on the steps of the capitol building in Harrisburg to raise a prayer for education in Pennsylvania. Once a friend advised me to stay out of such matters and ‘stick to religion.’ So let me tell you why I was there.

As the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote, poor school districts inevitably struggle to afford special-education staff, smaller classes, better computers and teacher development, among many other things. You do not need to study financial reports or performance studies. All you need to do is to visit these schools to see it.

One study documented that per-pupil spending across all districts in Pennsylvania during the 2009-10 school year was $12,729. Districts with the least and greatest levels of poverty, the fewest and most students, and the lowest and highest levels of student achievement, spent, on average, more per student than districts in the middle (i.e., the second and third quartiles) of the poverty, enrollment, and achievement distributions. On the average, poorer districts perform lower than wealthier districts. Why? Larger class size, fewer resources, less targeted professional development, reduced ancillary staff, as a consequence of strangled budgets result in reduced academic outcomes.

Education expenditures must be sufficient to produce acceptable academic outcomes for all students, especially when educational needs vary across the student population. Students living in poverty, English- language learners (ELLs), and special education students all require a larger investment than other students in order to achieve academically. This means that districts with high numbers of high-need students require more funding.

In 2013, Stein and Quinn of The University of Pennsylvania conducted a study that indicated statewide, the adequacy gap for all non-charter school districts (including the School District of Philadelphia) in 2009-10 was, on average, $751 per pupil—suggesting that an additional $1.26 billion was required to account for the difference between current per-pupil spending and an educationally adequate level of spending.

The average of $5,813 in per-pupil dollars coming from the state in Pennsylvania in 2012 ranked 21st nationwide — and was less than every abutting state except Ohio. The Educational Law Center estimates that high-poverty public schools in Pennsylvania spend an annual average of $3,000 less per student compared to wealthy schools, adding up to a funding gap of $75,000 in a classroom of 25 students. While this number includes local funding, the fundamental issue is that the state funding amount is not consistent across districts. It is not equitable. This average shortfall is savagely more in some poor districts.

The reason that the expenditures must meet a ‘fully funded’ and ‘fair’ formula is that without complete and adequate funding, these students, on the whole, are not provided an ‘equal’ education to their counterparts in wealthier districts. This educational deficit has long term consequences for the economies of cities and states, setting up a vicious cycle. Without complete and adequate funding, who, exactly is this workforce that is being prepared for the jobs we hope to create through tax subsidies for corporations?

Jonathan Kozol, writer, educator, and activist, who studied education for forty years, bluntly explains this situation by noting that legislators are unwilling to tax benefactors and corporations. In Pennsylvania, critics frequently point to teachers salaries and pension [a pension fund whose multiplier was recently increased (not requested by PSEA) by 0.5% by the legislature]. Further in the past, this same legislature reduced school districts required contributions to these same funds, and market returns temporarily provided an offset in income. That situation was brief, and since then, no increase in funding (even without increased pension contributions by districts) has crippled poorer districts.

Morally, ethically, this is structure for educational funding that is in effect an economical and social segregation. As a pastor that is why I am compelled to speak, this is a faith issue. In St. Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he urges them: “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15, NRSV)

I urge Governor Wolf to fulfill his campaign promises for fair education funding. It is long past time for the legislature to provide a permanent fair funding formula that is not subject to the whims of politics, but instead provides equitable funding for all students and districts.

Advertisements