New PBPC Brief Details Wide Gaps in Classroom Cuts Remaining from 2011-12
Brief available online here
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Nov. 2, 2015 – Nearly two-thirds – or $560 million – of the original $860 million in classroom funding cuts passed in Gov. Corbett’s 2011-12 budget remain in place. The average annual classroom funding cut per student still in place, statewide, is $330. Undermining Educational Opportunity: Pennsylvania’s Unequal Restoration of School Funding, a new brief released by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center today, examines the distribution of the remaining cuts per student by school district and finds large inequities.
School districts that have had the smallest part of the 2011-12 funding cuts restored are, on average, low income, high poverty, and have higher non-proficiency rates on PSSA exams. This pattern comes in the wake of initial funding cuts which were three times larger in high-poverty school districts than in low-poverty ones.
“Funding inequality between the wealthiest and poorest school districts more than doubled between 2010 and 2014,” PBPC education analyst Waslala Miranda, author of the brief, noted. “Pennsylvania ranks as the worst state in the nation for funding inequality between its wealthiest and poorest school districts, with the spending gap per student between these two groups more than double the national average.”
The new report’s appendices show the original funding cut and remaining cut per student for each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts. Districts were divided into four groups, or quartiles, each with 125 school districts, based on how large their remaining funding cut per student is. Quartile One contains those districts with the largest cuts remaining ($832 per student), and Quartile Four contains those districts with the smallest cuts remaining ($19 per student). The fourth quartile has only 10 percent of its cuts remaining, meaning that, on average, 90 percent of its funding has been restored. Meanwhile, the school districts in the three other quartiles have at least two-thirds (67 percent) of their 2010-11 cuts still in place.
Those districts that have had the least amount of their classroom funding restored since the 2011-12 cuts are the ones that face the greatest challenges in boosting student achievement. School districts in the fourth quartile have a typical annual family income just above $70,000, while those in the first quartile have a typical annual family income just under $40,000. When looking at the share of students from low-income families in a district, as indicated by the rate of students who qualify for free- or reduced-priced lunch, the higher the share of students who are low income, the deeper the remaining cuts. Many of the districts with the deepest cuts still in place are in rural areas. The first quartile school districts touch 37 state Senate districts and 100 state House districts and are represented by an almost equal number of Republicans (20 senators and 46 representatives) and Democrats (17 senators and 54 representatives) in the General Assembly.
Recent PSSA scores show that school funding matters. PSSA scores fell for three straight years following the 2011-12 cuts. In each of the four years prior to those cuts, school funding increased, as did PSSA scores. In addition, PSSA scores fell the most after 2011-12 in the poorest districts that received the largest cuts. The report concludes that to maximize student achievement, Pennsylvania should focus its reinvestment in education on those school districts that have the deepest cuts remaining.
“A good step towards that goal is Gov. Wolf’s education funding proposal. In comparing the governor’s plan to a proposed funding formula, his proposal would greatly lower remaining cuts across all school districts, but would especially target help towards those at the bottom,” Miranda said. “The proposed funding formula would not help the bottom as much because the formula doesn’t account for the lopsided cuts of 2011-12, which disproportionately targeted poor school districts.”