This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The gap between what wealthy and poor school districts spend on education in Pennsylvania has doubled since Gov. Corbett took office, according to a recent study by the Associated Press.
In 2014-15, wealthier districts are expected to spend nearly $1,800 more per student than poorer districts, according to the AP. In 2010-2011, that difference was $750.
Some of that inequity has been driven by Corbett’s decision to stop giving extra resources to districts coping with the added costs of charter schools – which are almost exclusively situated in poor, urban districts such as Philadelphia, Chester-Upland, York, and Reading.
Since former Gov. Mark Schweiker’s time in office, the state subsidized those districts with an added funding stream to cover the inefficiencies of operating what amount to many distinct, independent school systems.
Corbett’s first budget, though, axed that charter-reimbursement line – a cut of $220 million per year.
"It was a huge blow to school districts that had adopted the state-enabled model of charter expansion," said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth and a former staffer in Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell’s cabinet.
"On some level, it was a bait and switch. You do what we want, and we’ll support you, and then [they] pulled the rug out from school districts who did it," she said. "And, again, in suburban communities where there hasn’t been much charter expansion, it didn’t affect them at all."
Tim Eller, spokesman for Corbett’s Department of Education, agreed that cutting that line item hurt poorer districts, but said it was foolish for them to think it would last forever.
"Charter schools in Pennsylvania have been in place for 17-plus years now. So school districts in their budgeting should be allotting for that expense knowing that they have students moving on," Eller said. "And they should be streamlining their operations to provide the services for the students that are remaining."