Study: Inequitable school funding leaves behind children living in poverty and in rural areas
Inequitable school funding in Pennsylvania means children in rural areas and children living in poverty are left behind, according to the author of a new Penn State study.
A commonwealth court judge ruled in February that the state’s system of funding public schools falls short and violates students’ constitutional rights.
In his study, Ed Fuller, with the College of Education at Penn State, said this shortfall especially disadvantages certain children. He said underfunded school districts pay teachers less, leading to higher turnover and less qualified educators.
“Often, not always, but often kids in poverty don't have the same experiences when they're growing up. So many times they'll come to school behind their peers. And so they need the best teachers to help accelerate them and to catch them up with their peers," Fuller said.
At the high school level, the study found schools in the highest funded districts spent an average of almost $2 million more on teacher salaries than schools in the lowest funded districts.
Fuller said this funding inequity has a long term effect on Pennsylvania’s labor force, and that states with a highly educated workforce can attract new companies.
“So frankly, I'd argue we're losing out right now. We could grow our economy faster in Pennsylvania if we had already invested well in education throughout every area of the state. We've just chosen not to, and now we're losing out on jobs and tax revenue," Fuller said.
But he said the solution isn’t so simple and isn’t likely to be popular with the public. Fuller said municipalities and the state could raise taxes or redistribute money from wealthy districts.
“But we really have to do something. Because so many kids, particularly kids of color, in particular kids in poverty, many of whom live in rural areas, they're not getting an equal opportunity to learn. Their life chances are diminished because we have a system that doesn't invest in their education," Fuller said.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are hosting hearings across the state about inequitable school funding, but so far, they have not created a plan to address the issue.
The next “Basic Education Funding Committee” hearing will be Nov. 16 in Harrisburg. All of the hearings are live streamed on YouTube.
Also happening Nov. 16 is WPSU’s next “Conversations Live.” Education experts, including Ed Fuller, will talk about Pennsylvania’s teacher and administrator shortages. That discussion will air next Thursday at 8 p.m. on WPSU-TV, FM and online.