Low-Income Communities Suffer the Most as PA’s Budget Stalls

Pennsylvania is currently experiencing an implosion of its education system as schools across the state struggle to keep their doors open. For the third straight month since the initial June 30th deadline, the state house has failed to pass a budget.

Hardest hit by this crisis are schools and students in low-income communities, which rely on state funding far more than their wealthier counterparts. School districts receive anywhere from 40% to 60% of their funds from local property taxes. Though in poorer districts the state usually helps pay for the difference, this is often barely enough.

Now, with no financial support from the state, schools in districts most reliant on state level funding are at the greatest risk of closing their doors. This means PA’s low-income students, already at a disadvantage due to their socioeconomic status, may fall even further behind their wealthier peers.

Mapping Inequality

Earlier this summer we produced a map comparing poverty rates to school district borders. The map well illustrates the level of inequity in our education funding system, showing how far too many school district borders isolate low-income communities from wealthier neighbors. This limits the poorer districts ability to generate sufficient education revenue. The city of Reading serves as a perfect example of this socioeconomic segregation and the resulting inequality.

Reading, PA

It is simply impossible for Reading to raise enough revenue for education through only local efforts. Instead, it is forced to rely on the state for 70% of its total education funding[1] - which includes local, state, and federal money. This is almost double the state’s average of 41%[2] and by far the highest among districts with 4,000 or more students.[3]

With almost zero education funding coming in from the state and limited local financial resources, Reading may soon have to close its schools until a state budget passes. Doing so would greatly harm the education and development of Reading’s 17,600 students.

Interestingly, as shown in the map above, all of Reading’s neighboring districts are actually significantly wealthier and thus have the local financial resources to keep their schools open longer during the budget impasse. Yet, because of the unfair school district borders, Reading has no access to this revenue and is trapped in a socioeconomic bubble; unable to provide the same education opportunities for its students as its neighbors. As a result, Reading’s students, who are some of the neediest in the state, risk falling further and further behind every day Pennsylvania’s government fails to pass a budget.

Unfortunately Reading isn’t alone in its reliance on state funding. Other districts with high poverty levels, such as Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, Harrisburg, and Erie face similar issues, as they too have been isolated from their wealthier neighbors by unequal school district borders.

Harrisburg, PA
Erie, PA

By the Numbers

An examination of exactly just how much these districts rely on education funding from the state paints a bleak picture.

The data shows exactly how reliant lower income districts are on state funds, especially compared to the state average of 41%. The contrast is even starker when compared with wealthier districts.

Disturbingly, these are not isolated examples. Well over half of PA’s school districts rely on state allocations for 40% or more of their total education funding[1]. After over 110 days of no financial support from the state, these low-income districts have struggled the most to meet the needs of their tens of thousands of students.

The graphs below illustrate the strong correlation between a school district’s reliance on state funding and its poverty level.

For grade-school students, every day of class is critical for development, especially for low-income students. Numerous studies have shown the detrimental impact poverty has on students, often putting them at a disadvantage before they even enter the classroom. Yet, across the country, wealthier students routinely attend better resourced public schools because their districts are able to raise more education revenue through local taxes. Isolating neighboring lower-income communities only increases this inequality.

The unequal impact of PA’s budget impasse on low-income school districts perfectly illustrates one of the greatest shortcomings in our nation’s approach to education funding. Low-income districts, unable to locally generate sufficient revenue for schools, cannot provide their students with education opportunities equal to their wealthier peers. The end result is an education funding system that fails to support the students most in need.

1,2,3, U.S. Census, 2013 http://www.census.gov/govs/school/

U.S. Department of Education, 2013 http://www.census.gov/govs/school/

[1] U.S. Census, 2013 http://www.census.gov/govs/school/

U.S. Department of Education, 2013 http://www.census.gov/govs/school/