A recently released report titled “The Bottom Line is Children: Public Education in Chester County” contends that Chester County's public schools are underfunded by $42 million annually.
The study found that only one-third of Chester County students have the option to attend full-day kindergarten. And a growing number of the county's 69,567 students now live in low-income households. The number of students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program in the county has increased by 33 percent in the last four years.
This is the story in Chester County, which is one of the most affluent areas in the state. What's the story in more rural areas, or areas where the poverty rate is even higher?
Residents in this area are blessed with some of the best schools in southeastern Pennsylvania. A few school districts rank among the best in the state. But even here in Chester County, with the comparative affluence, the instructional spending gap between the highest-spending and lowest-spending school districts stands at about $98,000 per classroom.
One recommendation that the Public Citizens for Children and Youth made is to increase resources to close academic achievement gaps. That's a good recommendation, but it's also one that's hard to implement. It's a flawed system when a comparatively wealthy school district can spend $98,000 more per classroom than a poor school district—especially when you consider that it's the poor school district that needs the additional resources.
The state's reliance on local property taxes to primarily fund schools creates a system where more affluent communities will be able to spend millions, in some cases tens of millions, more on schools each year.
Can a school district be smart and creative with funding and make the most out of the resources that they do have? Yes. One example can be found in Avon Grove, where the school district attempted to identify those students who were most at risk of falling behind and offering full-day kindergarten to help those students stay on target.
Expecting the governor and the state general assembly to find a long-term solution to the heavy reliance on local property taxes is futile. This has long been a problem and it's never been addressed.
You might not agree that the schools in Chester County are underfunded, but it's hard to argue in favor of the current system of funding schools when the inequity between school districts persists.