WRITTEN BY ERICA ABBOTT
Public schools are financed on a variety of levels, including federal, state and local. By far the number one source of funds is derived from the state level through taxes.
“Public education is funded primarily throughout our country on real estate taxes so jurisdiction tax real estate based on the value of real estate and, so the potential that you would have in any pot of money to fund schools is affected by how much the property is valued within a particular jurisdiction,” Cheryl Logan, chief academic supports officer for the School District of Philadelphia, said.
This can present a huge problem to schools that may be located in poorer jurisdictions.
“If you have poor districts where the tax base is going to be low because home ownership is low, home values are low, you’re going to have a base of money to spend that will be lower than in another jurisdiction where the property values are high,” Logan added.
Gaping disparities exist for these elementary and secondary education students. While more affluent districts receive a higher level of local funding, poorer districts lag behind, an article from The Washington Post states.
Pennsylvania has the highest per-pupil spending differential in the entire country, the article goes on to say. The article explains that “per-pupil spending in the poorest school districts is 33 percent lower than per-pupil spending in the wealthiest school districts.” That means that once again, students in poorer districts are being put at a disadvantage.
According to Logan, in every Pennsylvania city with the exception of Philadelphia, superintendents have the latitude to raise taxes. “Whatever base amount of funds you have is going to determine what your per-pupil expenditure is in a given jurisdiction and then that will certainly affect what kind of services you are able to or not able to provide,” she said.
Moreover, the Education Law Center’s Report Card measured in their 2015 study whether school funding is fair. In state funding distribution, 14 states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland and Nevada, were found to have “regressive” funding distribution, which is defined as ”providing less money to schools with higher concentrations of students from low-income families.”
Despite attending parochial school, Corley Chapman, an inmate at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, is fully aware that public schools in Philadelphia face challenges. “Well the school system in Philadelphia is absolutely horrible if you’re in public school,” Chapman said. “They’re always facing some type of shortfall and it really looks like they’re trying to privatize or actually make a business of education in Philly with the charters and stuff.”
Indeed, the way in which a school is funded is not the only way a public school can become disadvantaged. Charter schools also suck funding out of the public school system, causing even more disparities in the ways that a public school system’s budget is affected.
A report by Moody’s writes that charter schools pose a credit threat to schools in “economically weak urban areas.” The report argues that by having students change to a charter school from a public school, it could cause financial distress.
“Charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where school districts already show a degree of underlying economic and demographic stress,” the report states. “Charter schools can pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs.”
Because funds then get sucked out of the public schools and costs are cut, more students could potentially seek out alternative options, including charter schools, further driving inequities.
“One thing that concerns me about charter schools is that they rely on some external funds, so they need philanthropy to support them and when, if, philanthropy goes through cycles or through fads, then as funders stop being interested in charter schools, we’re going to be in really big trouble because we’re not going to have the funds to sustain the schools that we’ve now built and now we can’t afford them,” Vontrese Deeds Pamphile, a doctoral student in management and organizations & sociology at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said.
At the end of the day, districts need to work with their schools, particularly those affected by the economic downturn, said Logan, particularly poor districts.
“If you think about any sort of economic downturn, the people who are the least able to sustain themselves or the most dependent on social safety nets are affected the most,” Logan said.