State education aid in Pennsylvania is correlated with the poverty level of each district's student population. But the new analysis shows that the funding levels are also skewed, depending on the racial composition of each district's student population. Districts with a higher-than-average percentage of students of color fare worse when state aid is doled out.
Data analyst David Mosenkis, who is a lay leader with the faith-based community organizing group POWER, compiled the data about current state funding levels for every school district in the state and then published this statistical analysis.
It is similar to one that was the basis of two lawsuits in the 1990s alleging racial discrimination in Pennsylvania's school funding system. The state lawsuit was dismissed and the federal one was dropped under pressure from state leaders.
But the funding situation has changed little since then; if anything, the trend has gotten worse, according to attorneys who were involved in those lawsuits.
"It should be a call to action for policy makers and for people who care about civil rights and basic fairness," Gobreski said.
Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite said he found the numbers "alarming."
"This diagram suggests that children who are most in need of resources are receiving the fewest amount of resources," he said. "This is why it's so critically important for us to have a full, fair, and equitable funding formula."
On Monday, a group of school districts, parents, and organizations plan to announce legal action against state officials for "failing to uphold their constitutional responsibility to provide a system of public education." They will be represented by the Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), which was involved in the 1990s suits.
The state constitution requires that every child be provided with a "thorough and efficient" education. It is unclear whether the racial disparities argument will be part of that lawsuit.
"This is not just a Philadelphia problem, this is a commonwealth problem," said Hite. "This [analysis] suggests that 'thorough and efficient' depends on where you live."
Lori Shorr, Mayor Nutter's education chief, said in a statement that Mosenkis' findings "are very concerning and highlight biases and trends that should disturb anyone who believes in our system of public education." She said that it draws attention to the need for more funding, as well as a funding formula that is predictable and weighted based on students' "extraordinary and differentiated learning needs."
She said that all students should be treated equally, with factors such as "poverty, concentrated poverty, limited English proficiency, and other special needs ... weighted in such a way that all students with these needs receive the same amount of support."
The Basic Education Funding Commission, a legislative body charged with coming up with a new school funding formula, is meeting in Philadelphia on Nov. 18 and 19. The list of people who will be testifying at its hearing has not yet been finalized.
State Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) said that the commission, if it hasn't already, must take into consideration any "history and pattern in Pennsylvania that discriminates against a particular ethnic group."
He also urged pursuit of another federal anti-discrimination lawsuit. The lawsuit being announced Monday is in state courts.
"That kind of lawsuit should be revived," Williams said. Even though the state took over the Philadelphia school district in 2001 because of fiscal instability, it has not fixed the problem, he said.
The pattern of discriminatory funding "apparently persists, based on the data," he said.
For instance, the pattern of districts with more students of color getting less aid persists at every income level, according to Mosenkis' study.