The Travesty of Unequal Funding of Public Education Nationally and in Pennsylvania

unequal funding of schoolsPublished in the Center City Concerned Citizens Review            May 2019

By Joseph Batory

A research study by the Rockefeller Foundation’s (In Pursuit of Better Schools) analyzing public education funding nationally has revealed significant inequalities among school systems across the United States with differences ranging in per pupil funding ranging from $4000.00 to $15,000.00.

This unequal distribution of public education funding across the USA has created huge disparities among schools and school districts in the quality of school buildings, facilities, curriculum, equipment for instruction, teacher experience and qualifications, class sizes, presence of auxiliary professionals, and other resources.

This inequality in what schools offer students occurs because more than half of the USA’s funding for public schools comes from local property taxes, the revenue from which varies according to the wealth and will of individual communities.

No other advanced nation in the world funds its public schools with local property taxes. Except for the United States, these nations use formulas for per-student funding from nationally-generated tax revenues to fully fund all schools equally throughout their countries. Nationally-generated funding for schools is far from perfect BUT it avoids creating a caste system of “have” and “have not” school systems created when the majority source of funding comes from property taxes.

Pennsylvania’s overreliance on property taxes for public school funding is much worse than in other states. The State’s K-12 education system currently over relies on local funding (53 percent), combined with a relatively low State share (36 percent) and federal (11 percent) sources. Pennsylvania’s share of public education funding has declined over many years. It now ranks 46th in the nation in terms of each State’s share of education funding. An Education Law Center report has revealed that in terms of what school districts need to educate their students adequately, Pennsylvania over many years has shortchanged public schools by about $4 billion.

Pennsylvania is also one of 14 states that regressively funds schools which means that the State is not addressing the issue of school systems with larger numbers of students from low-income families. Pennsylvania currently sends proportionally more dollars to wealthier and whiter school districts.

Much of this travesty can be traced to the destruction of the Equalized Subsidy for Basic Education (ESBE) by Harrisburg’s politicians in the early 1990s. This ESBE formula, nationally recognized for its equitable distribution basis, had utilized factors of community wealth and pupil population to drive out annual subsidies to school systems that were both objective and fair. Unfortunately, the growing costs of this ESBE formula to fairly fund public education caused its ultimate demise as politicians prioritized self-serving re-election agendas and shifted paying for more and more of the costs of public education from the State to the local level.

With the removal of the fair funding formula (ESBE) by the Pennsylvania Legislature, hundreds of public schools across the Commonwealth are now lacking in resources, staffing, technical and curriculum needs, and facility improvements. It seems clear that Pennsylvania elected officials have violated the State Constitutional mandate to “maintain and support a thorough and efficient system of public education.” But this has somehow been politically obfuscated and the Courts have yet to rule on this matter.

Pennsylvania funding of schools has improved somewhat in recent years … but not nearly enough to compensate for years of the Commonwealth’s inadequate funding of public education.


Joseph Batory is the author of three books and has been widely published on politics and education




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