Chester County has some of the highest performing schools in southeastern Pennsylvania, but a study released last week warns that the 12 schools in the county are currently underfunded by about $42 million annually and the high performances might be difficult to maintain if the funding situation doesn't improve.
The report, “The Bottom Line is Children: Public Education in Chester County,” noted that only one-third of Chester County students have the option to attend full-day kindergarten and there are a growing number of low-income students among the county’s 69,567 students.
“Chester County schools do a great job of educating our children, but a troubling lack of resources is causing vulnerable students to fall behind in the classroom,” said Donna Cooper the executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, the minority chairman of the state Education Committee, used the release of the report to call for improvements to public education.
“Public education in Chester County is strong, but we must continue to work to expand our efforts to ensure that every child has access to the resources and opportunities to compete in the global economy,” Dinniman said. “Through continued investments in education, we can ensure that all Chester County children have the skills needed for success in the workforce of tomorrow.”
The report noted that there is an instructional spending gap of $98,000 per classroom between the highest-spending and lowest-spending districts.
The percentage of students eligible for the free- and reduced-price lunch program has increased by 33 percent in the last four years. Approximately 15,400 students qualified for the federal program in 2012.
Overall, Chester County schools have a graduation rate of 93 percent, which is the second-best in the region behind only Montgomery County. The state average graduation rate is 82.6 percent.
Public Citizens for Children and Youth made several recommendations for Chester County schools, including giving every child the option of attending full-day kindergarten, increasing resources to close academic achievement gaps within every district, focusing special attention on boosting academic performance in the Coatesville School District, and creating a county-side coalition to focus on boosting the state’s investment in every school district.
“The Bottom Line is Children: Public Education in Chester County” is the first in a four-part series looking at issues affecting children in each of Philadelphia’s suburban counties. The upcoming reports will focus on child health, hunger, and early childhood education.