The Education Law Center (ELC) has released the second edition of its “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card,” which aims to bring the important issue of fair school funding into the discussion about public education reform. The authors state that for any education reform to be successful, states must adopt “standards-driven school finance systems, expressly designed to provide a sufficient level of funding, fairly distributed in relation to student and school need.” The report thus measures each state’s current funding mechanisms to determine which states are providing sufficient funding for all students, regardless of poverty-level, to receive a high-quality education.
The report ranks states not only by their average per-pupil funding level, but by their funding distribution – the extent to which funding formulas are sensitive to changes in the rate of student poverty throughout the state. This second factor is particularly important since low-income students tend to be concentrated in certain districts, and, the cost to provide a quality education to these students will undoubtedly be higher. In order for school funding to truly be fair, the authors say, the level of funding should increase relative to the level of concetrated student poverty.
While Pennsylvania ranks 12th among the fifty states for its average per-pupil funding level ($12,976), it falls to the bottom fifth when it comes to funding distribution. Pennsylvania has a regressive funding system, meaning that districts with high concentrations of poverty are actually receiving less money per-student than wealthier districts. As a result of this and other factors, the report gives Pennsylvania a “D” for the fairness and adequacy of its funding systems.
Given that funding is tightly linked to student performance and teacher recruitment and retention, the report concludes that until issues of fair funding are addressed, “the current federal reform agenda…[is] likely not to have much long-term or systemic impact on improving opportunities and outcomes for the nation’s most disadvantaged students.”