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Report says recent state funding trends hit poorer districts hardest

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center released Wednesday says that school districts with large numbers of poor students, like Philadelphia, have been hurt disproportionately by cuts in education funding since Gov. Corbett took office.

Written by the center’s executive director, Sharon Ward, the report calls the scale of cuts to districts "unprecedented." It says that Philadelphia has lost $1,351 per student, the most of any district in the state. PBPC is a non-partisan, progressive research center.

"Within Philadelphia, state funding cuts, and the siphoning off of state school funding to charter schools, have wreaked tangible devastation on schools and children," the report said.

In an Inquirer story, Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Timothy Eller called the report misleading. Eller repeated what the Corbett administration has consistently maintained: that reduced funds to school districts since 2011 are due to the end of federal stimulus funds, "which Gov. Corbett had no control over." Eller said that Corbett has significantly increased state education aid since taking office.

Although the bulk of the reductions to school districts were due to the drying up of the federal dollars — which Harrisburg had used to substitute for some state aid — there were also other cuts. For instance, the governor ended an annual line item of more than $200 million that partially reimbursed school districts for "stranded costs" incurred due to the creation of charter schools. Had that line item remained, Philadelphia would have received more than half of that money.

Corbett’s proposed education budget for this year would provide an increase of nearly $400 million for education, or 3.8 percent. But Ward’s report said that even with this, less than half of the reductions since 2011 have been restored.

"Pennsylvania’s deep cuts in education funding singling out the most vulnerable districts fly in the face of overwhelming evidence that concentrated poverty is a major impediment to children’s educational progress," Ward’s report said.

She adds that it has been a "misguided" policy choice for state dollars to support traditional public schools, charters, cyber charters, and private and sectarian schools through scholarship programs that raise money through corporate tax deductions.

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