Researchers acknowledged on Monday that an analysis used by Pennsylvania officials to argue that the state funding system is not hurting poor students was flawed — and the revised version comes to the opposite conclusion.
The Urban Institute has updated a national study school funding models to determine how it accounted for funds provided to charter schools. The results now show that students from low-income families in Pennsylvania received slightly less funding for their schools than wealthier students for many years.
“When you tally up these payments, you see a regressive funding formula,” said Kristin Blagg, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a DC think tank. “This indicates that there is a need to take a closer look at how the funding formula works in Pennsylvania.”
It’s a notable change, because this seemingly fundamental question — Do poor children in the state typically attend less well-funded schools? — was debated in the recent high-stakes litigation over Pennsylvania’s school funding system. The revised analysis reinforces a key claim made by the families and school districts who brought the case, who argued that the system is unfair and inadequate.
It’s unclear if this could have any effect on the case, however. Final arguments in the trial ended in March and the judge is expected to rule following arguments on other legal issues in July.
A lawyer for Republican Senate Speaker Jake Corman, who is charged in the case, did not respond to a request for comment. Plaintiffs’ attorneys declined to comment.
During the trial, the two sides offered starkly different characterizations of school funding in Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs argued that poorer districts generally receive less funding, but the defense countered with analyzes suggesting otherwise.
Jason Willis, an analyst for consultancy WestEd, shared data purporting to show that many of the state’s poorest districts were also among the best funded. Another defense witness, Max Eden, used the analysis previous years to defend the state funding approach. “Pennsylvania is pretty darn fair, all things considered,” said Eden, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
In both cases, plaintiffs’ attorneys pushed back. They supported that these analyzes did not take into account the funding that districts receive and then pass on to charter schools, artificially inflating district expenditures.
After this was presented in court, Chalkbeat questioned the Urban Institute about its findings, and Blagg began to review the organization’s methods. She concluded that the concerns were well-founded and the Urban Institute issued a revised version results Monday. The changes significantly affected results in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Previously, the Urban Institute found that poor students in Pennsylvania received 4% more funding than non-poor students in the 2018-19 school year (the most recent available). Black and Hispanic students received 7% more funding than students from other racial and ethnic groups.
According to the revised analysis, however, poor students in the state actually got 3% lessand black and Hispanic students received 6% less than other students.
This means that Pennsylvania is one of the few states where students from low-income families received less money for their schools than wealthier students. That’s worrying, Blagg said, because there’s good reason to think poor children need extra resources.
“Overall, to support outcomes for low-income students, we would like to see more dollars flowing to them,” she said.
Other researchers have also found that poor students achieve less in Pennsylvania.
Matthew Kelly, professor at Penn State and witness for the plaintiffs, found that the wealthiest districts in the state spend about 20 percent more per student than the poorest districts, a difference of thousands of dollars per student. It’s similar to another analysis of the Shanker Institute, a think tank affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.
The gap in the Urban Institute study is much smaller, likely because it focuses on all of the state’s poor students – rather than schools or districts – and many of these students do not attend very poor schools.
The Urban Institute is not the first to correct its findings due to the complexity of accounting for charter school funding. The Education Law Center, a national fundraising advocacy organization, previously issued a similar notice. correction to its report on school funding trends.
Dale Mezzacappa contributed reporting.