Pennsylvania’s school districts have the most inequitable spending for poor students in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Its numbers show that the state’s school districts that have high numbers of impoverished students spent about a third less than those with low numbers of impoverished students.
In a phone news conference Friday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan — along with Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League — highlighted the differences as part of his efforts to urge Congress to consider ensuring that high-poverty schools get the resources they need as members weigh the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Mr. Duncan said some Republican proposals do just the opposite, giving more money to well-off districts.
He said that when ESEA — the last version was the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 — was first passed 50 years ago, it was not only an education law. “It was also a civil rights law, designed to ensure equity and opportunity for every child in America,” he said.
Mr. Duncan said some progress has been made nationwide — citing higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates — but added, “Sadly though, right now in too many places around the country, we still have school systems that are fundamentally separate and unequal.”
He said Pennsylvania is among 23 states where a total of 6.6 million students from low-income families are “being shortchanged when it comes to state and local education funding.”
Mr. Duncan said one reason for “inequitable school funding” across the nation for decades has been “a long history of using local property taxes to fund schools.”
Pennsylvania is in the midst of considering a property tax reduction proposal from Gov. Tom Wolf. It also is awaiting a report from the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission, which is examining funding formulas.
The figures used to back Mr. Duncan’s point divide each state’s school districts into four groups or quartiles: low-poverty, low-middle-poverty, high-middle-poverty and high-poverty.
The results show that across the nation, high-poverty school districts spent 15.6 percent less than those in the group with the least amount of poverty.
In Pennsylvania, that difference was 33 percent, significantly larger than the next-closest state, Vermont, which had a spending difference of 18 percent between the top and bottom groups. Three others — Illinois, Missouri and Virginia — had gaps of 17 percent.
Overall, per student spending was $9,210 nationwide, with $9,270 in high-poverty districts and $10,721 in low-poverty ones.
In Pennsylvania, the overall figure was $11,021, with $9,387 in high-poverty districts and $12,529 in low-poverty ones.
The figures were from 2011-12, which was Gov. Tom Corbett’s first full budget year. Education spending was cut significantly as federal stimulus money dried up. Some districts with many low-income students were particularly hard-hit.
Similar calculations were done based on minority enrollment. Pennsylvania didn’t top that list, but the figures showed that Pennsylvania school districts with high numbers of minority students spent 7 percent less than those with low numbers of minority students. Nationwide, the average difference is 4.4 percent. The top gap was in Nevada with 30 percent.
The data come from the Education Finance Statistics Center, a branch of the National Center for Education Statistics.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.