This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Districts vary widely in wealth and taxing capacity. This affects how much funding they get from different sources. By design, those with less local revenue and greater needs get more money from the state. Federal money also flows to poorer districts. But this money doesn’t make up for huge disparities in the ability to raise revenue from local sources.
Richer districts fund most of their school costs through property taxes. Lower Merion gets just 10 percent of its funds from the state and hardly anything from the federal government, but it has so much property wealth that it is able to raise enough money locally to spend twice as much as Philadelphia per year.
Districts in older suburbs like William Penn in Delaware County, which covers Aldan, Colwyn, Darby, East Lansdowne, Lansdowne, and Yeadon Boroughs, have shrinking business and industrial centers, decreasing property values, and a high proportion of low-income families. William Penn gets 44 percent of its funding from the state and provides 50 percent from local sources. Still, it is able to spend only about half as much per pupil as Lower Merion.
Philadelphia, the state’s largest district by far, is literally in a class by itself as far as Harrisburg is concerned when calculating how much state aid it should receive. While beset by poverty, Philadelphia also has assets that smaller districts don’t. But it also must pay for its own court system, social services and other amenities through local taxes. How much money Philadelphia should contribute to its own education system has been a continuing point of contention in Harrisburg. In 2008-09, it got 56 percent of its education expenditures from the state and covered one third of its costs locally.