Phila. district spends less per pupil than most other cities

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The School District of Philadelphia District headquarters building at 440 N. Broad St. (File photo)

Compared with big-city peers, the Philadelphia School District spends less per pupil than almost any other education system in the country - even Detroit's.

Philadelphia's per-pupil price tag last school year was $12,570 - the lowest of any comparable district except Memphis, Tenn.; Tampa, Fla.; and Dallas, the Pew Charitable Trusts concluded in a report released Thursday.

Detroit spent $13,419 per student, and Boston, at the top of the peer-district list, spent $18,626.

Pennsylvania is one of just three states that lack an education funding formula, and city schools have paid the price in recent years, with many unable to fund full-time guidance counselors or after-school activities. With the state now headed toward such a formula, Pew examined the funding landscape in a national context.

One of Pew's findings was something of a surprise: States with formulas that take into consideration student and district need do not automatically provide a higher level of funding to urban districts.

"The formula is not the whole thing," said Larry Eichel, director of the Philadelphia research initiative at Pew.

Still, a formula is key for the district, the study's authors noted, and "would almost certainly provide Philadelphia with a larger share of state education money than it receives under the current system."

A commission has been formed to study and make recommendations to the legislature about a funding formula, and Gov.-elect Tom Wolf has promised to enact such a formula.

The Pew study also singled out charter school costs as a key issue. More than 60,000 city students are enrolled in charter schools, with the district paying charters $8,417 per student; that figure is $22,307 for students who use special-education services.

Matthew Stanski, the district's chief financial officer, said the district would continue to advocate for a fair funding formula, and for movement on charter reimbursement. "We feel there are some inequalities as to how charters are funded, especially in regards to special education," he said.

The district must pay that $22,307 whether a student has a mild learning disability or more intense and expensive needs.

Pennsylvania's charter-funding mechanism puts Philadelphia in about the middle of the pack for financial burden of charters, Pew found.

The report also noted that Philadelphia drew more on state aid - and less on local funding sources - than most of its peer districts. Roughly 46 percent of the district's finances comes from state coffers, and 43 percent from local sources. (City officials said those numbers have shifted for the current school year, with local money making up about 47 percent of the district's budget, thanks to an extension of an additional 1 percent sales tax and imposition of a $2-per-pack cigarette tax.)

Shortly after the report was released, the School Reform Commission held its monthly voting meeting. The SRC voted unanimously to revoke the charter of the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School. The move was mostly a formality, as the school told parents in late December that it was permanently closing.

 


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