Finally, a judge has confirmed what so many of us have been saying all along: Our children have never been well served by the state when it comes to funding its public schools.
Finally, a judge has confirmed what so many of us have been saying all along: Our children have never been well served by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when it comes to funding its public schools systems.
Since 1992, funding has been breathtakingly disproportionate, leaving the most vulnerable and marginalized students without the appropriate funding to ensure they have equitable access to quality education in our public schools.
Pennsylvania's “hold harmless” system of funding required that no school district was to ever receive less funding than it did in the previous year, even if a district had since experienced a decline in student enrollment.
And there it is.
According to a 2021 Children First (formerly PCCY) study, districts whose enrollments shrank wound up benefiting from this funding approach because they continued to receive yearly funding increases. Meanwhile, “hold harmless” actually harmed those school districts with burgeoning enrollment because they could never receive more funding for those additional students.
Make that make sense.
In 2016, changes were made to the funding formula, to take into consideration current enrollment and other factors like poverty. However, nothing really changed because the new formula only applies to new funding — 11 percent of all state funding. The remaining funding is still “hold harmless” based. As a result, the educational inequities have lingered ever since.
The data in the "Hold Harmless" study indicate most growth in Pennsylvania public school student enrollment has been in the eastern/southeastern part of the Commonwealth, along with other districts in the Pittsburgh area. These regions account for 90 percent of growing districts. Yet other school district enrollment has declined since 1992, while continuing to receive massive funding increases — to the tune of 142 percent per student.
So guess who's getting the short end of the funding stick? Students of color, who comprise 80 percent of growing school districts. Philadelphia's district, for example, is 71 percent brown and Black. Each student's education is underfunded by nearly $2,000 according to the "Hold Harmless" report. Local municipalities try to compensate for the deficient school funding by raising taxes. They are in a perpetual cycle of playing catch-up. It's not working.
I concur with the study's conclusion, Pennsylvania’s "Hold Harmless" funding system is an obvious example of systemic racism — to its core.
I expect with this judge's ruling our students will finally see and experience real educational change.
Show them the money.
Councilmember Cindy Bass
8th Councilmanic District