Teachers union: Poor school districts hurt most by funding cuts

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HARRISBURG — A report from Pennsylvania’s largest teachers union says poor school districts have fared worse than wealthy ones in state funding and student performance.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association has led criticism of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett over funding cuts that schools received in the 2011-12 year, after the expiration of federal stimulus funding that had propped up school spending for two years.

Republicans say Mr. Corbett is accountable only for funding that originated with the state, and they factor in some costs — such as pension payments for school workers — that Democrats tend not to include. When those expenditures are included, the GOP says, the amount of state money directed toward public school districts has increased each year since Mr. Corbett took office.

But Democrats and education groups argue that Mr. Corbett eliminated or reduced other funding streams, such as the $224 million that partially reimbursed districts for payments made to charter schools, leaving districts in a hole.

In its report Wednesday, the PSEA divided Pennsylvania’s school districts into five groups based on the percentage of school-age children at or below the poverty level.

The districts with the least poverty had an average of 6.4 percent of children living in poverty, and the highest-poverty districts had an average of 27.8 percent living in the category.

The union then reviewed among the five groups reductions in education funding from the 2010-11 school year to the 2012-13 year. It found the loss of funding per student was lowest in the wealthiest districts, and the funding loss was greatest in the poorer districts.

The report also examined the portions of students in grades 3 through 6 scoring advanced or proficient on the PSSA reading and math tests. Those percentages dropped from the 2010-11 year to the 2012-13 year in each group, but the size of the decreases was generally larger in the high-poverty districts.

“Hard empirical evidence now points to the fact that the Corbett budget cuts have hurt our poorest students the most,” said PSEA president Mike Crossey.

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, responded to the report by saying that over four years Mr. Corbett has increased state funding for public schools by $1.5 billion.

In annual surveys of superintendents and business managers, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials found that districts with high levels of poverty made much deeper cuts to staff and programs than did districts with low and moderate levels, said Jim Buckheit, executive director of PASA.

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley.

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