What Difference Does A Decade Make?
Pennsylvania Sad Legacy: Inequitable Funding For
By Joe Batory
The school board was
engrossed in a night of mundane discussions….members starred listlessly at each
other…..then a man popped out of his chair. First, he accused the State of Pennsylvania of
deliberate underfunding of public education and the children it serves. He
attacked the State’s funding policy as an unconscionable, immoral scam. A maverick Board member? Hardly. An irate taxpayer? Not quite! This flame thrower was Upper Darby’s School superintendent Joe Batory! In an age
when school superintendents measure their words with the caution of a driver
education student behind the wheel, this guy prides himself on bluntness,
regardless of the sting. It’s a professional risk he’s willing to take.
The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/29/95
Inequitable funding of public education by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
sad legacy. As a young superintendent of schools in the early 1990’s, my
district (Upper Darby located just west of Philadelphia)
struggled to survive the destruction of the Equalized Subsidy for Basic
Education (ESBE) by Harrisburg’s
politicians. That legislative action literally drove my school system to its
financial knees as enrollments were rapidly growing and state subsidies were
The ESBE formula had utilized factors of community wealth and pupil population to drive out annual
subsidies to school systems that were both objective and fair. Unfortunately,
the growing costs of this ESBE formula to the state budget caused its ultimate
demise as self-serving politicians played to the taxpayers instead of the
Since the destruction of the ESBE formula by the Pennsylvania
legislature, billions of dollars have been denied to school districts across
the Commonwealth. For example, when this initially occurred in 1992-93, 28 of
the 30 fastest growing school districts in Pennsylvania had their state subsidies frozen.
Additionally, many impoverished school
systems received only a fraction of what the ESBE formula would have generated.
State politicians effectively created havoc at the local level and local
officials took all the heat for either
raising property taxes or cutting educational programs.
Essentially, state politicians had violated the Pennsylvania
Constitution which mandates that the Commonwealth “maintain and support a
thorough and efficient system of public education” and they’ve been walking
away ever since like they had no part in this evil doing.
Over the years, there have been numerous and diverse
education coalitions across Pennsylvania
that rose up against the betrayal of schools and children by a bipartisan
political establishment without conscience.
All of this was to no avail.
In a nutshell, here’s the problem and it still exists today:
Unlike what has transpired in many other states, Pennsylvania higher courts
(filled with political hacks) answer only to politicians and refuse to correct
the “equitable funding” issue; Numerous Harrisburg “spin doctors” work overtime
to obfuscate the issues, assassinate dissenters and confuse the public; and the news media continues
to fail miserably in its prime mission of effective communication regarding
Improving state funding is not now and has never been
an issue of suburban vs. urban school districts. More accurately, it
is an issue of “rich” districts vs. “needy” districts in terms of community wealth (property and business
tax assets) and other resources. For
example, it is community wealth that in in terms of 2005-2006 instructional
expenses allows Lower Merion to spend $11,406 per pupil and Radnor to spend
$10.322 per pupil while Philadelphia
spends only $5219 per pupil. This of course is an outrage of inequity (that the
ESBE formula once worked to address). And
note well that the Upper Darby School District is spending only $5502 this year in
instructional expense per student this year which makes it much more allied
than its affluent suburban neighbors. All of this adds up to a disgraceful
state of inequitable funding regarding public education in Pennsylvania.
For many years, I fought bitterly and publicly with the
state’s elected officials. As a result, to this day, I have lost all faith or
belief in the politicians of Harrisburg.
I am a terrible cynic about state government who has made lots of political
enemies, but I’m proud of it! As I
lecture on the “politics of education” in graduate schools these days, students
wonder at how I survived. So do I! One thing is for sure: I will always sleep
well and eventually go to my death bed in peace because my voice is on the
record against the Commonwealth’s political betrayal of its children and its
Posted Feb. 14, 2006
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