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In Pennsylvania, Race Results in Lower State Funding, Diminished Opportunity

October 1, 2015

I have written many blog posts on funding inequities and the reasons behind those inequities. The primary reason for funding inequity is our country’s reliance on property taxes to fund public education. The suffering of children in communities with depressed housing values and/or the lack of a business tax base is compounded because it often means that they reside in substandard homes and their parents have difficulty ending work. Like most Americans, I want to believe that the disparate funding formulas that result from this vicious cycle of poverty created by reliance on property tax is free of racial bias. As an article in yesterday’s Atlantic indicates, however, this is NOT the case in Pennsylvania where Gillian White shares the findings of a report written by data scientist David Mosenkis. In examining funding data from Pennsylvania, Mosenkis made an “unsettling” finding:

“If you color code the districts based on their racial composition you see this very stark breakdown. At any given poverty level, districts that have a higher proportion of white students get substantially higher funding than districts that have more minority students.” That means that no matter how rich or poor the district in question, funding gaps existed solely based on the racial composition of the school. Just the increased presence of minority students actually deflated a district’s funding level. “The ones that have a few more students of color get lower funding than the ones that are 100 percent or 95 percent white,” Mosenkis said.

Fixing this disparity will be extraordinarily difficult because over the past several years STATE funding for schools has withered. Consequently, in order to develop a funding formula that restores level funding for these minority districts and restore the funds cut during the recent downturn in the economy, the legislature will either need to increase taxes or redistribute the scarce funds they appropriate to schools. Since neither of these options is deemed to be acceptable, Pennsylvania has not passed a budget and those schools that rely on State funding the most, the schools serving poor students and especially poor minority students, a struggling mightily. And there is no end in sight. Ms. White offers a bleak outlook in terms of finding a remedy for the funding and racial inequities:

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state that has a problem with poor minority schools and rich white ones. White flight has left low-income, minority students in failing urban public schools. The compounding issue of low-income neighborhoods and scarce (or biased) funding leaves such schools with little money or resources to educate their students, and thus little hope of breaking the poverty cycle. These disparities become especially disheartening when looking at the current state of school segregation. Purposeful attempts to create more integrated schools, like busing, are virtually nonexistent in the present day. And even changes that would unintentionally result in greater student diversity, like redistricting, are often passionately rejected by the inhabitants of richer, whiter, districts.

In 1954 the Supreme Court rendered a decision that effectively required the end of segregated schooling and the “separate-but-equal” standard that was purportedly in place for the preceding sixty years. Sixty years later we have the worst of both worlds in Pennsylvania: the schools are more segregated than ever and more unequal than ever. Here’s hoping that the people of good will and fairness will raise up their voices to help break the cycle of poverty and end the racial injustice that is embedded in the funding of their public schools.

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