Jake Blumgart has a new piece in the American Prospect on Philadelphia schools that I think hits the sweet spot for progressive messaging on tomorrow’s Corbett budget drop:
The beleaguered state of Philadelphia’s school system is not a new story. The city’s education system has been underfunded for decades. In a city with a poverty rate of 28.4 percent, and a large immigrant population, per pupil spending was $13,272 in 2009-2010, lower than the state average and well below the neighboring, wealthy Lower Merion school district, which spends over $26,000 (education spending is largely funded by property taxes, which systemically disadvantages lower-income districts and their higher-need student populations). Not surprisingly, the educational outcomes are terrible: In 2011, four-year graduation rates in Philly public schools were just 61 percent. State leaders in Harrisburg eagerly blame the district’s chronic deficits and poor performance on incompetent and wasteful city administration.
There are a range of ongoing good-faith disagreements within the progressive coalition about education issues like measuring school performance and student achievement, the criteria for evaluating and paying teachers, and sundry school management issues, but one thing that I think everybody on the left ought to be able to get behind is equal spending per pupil.
Some people think we should try to accomplish this through more supplementary state funding topping up local spending, some people think we should do it by funding education entirely from the state level, and others think we should do it by enlarging school tax bases to County or Intermediate Unit size. But whatever flavor of fiscal equality you like, we all need to rally around this concept of equal spending for every student in next year’s budget.
Some states spend more on kids from areas with higher rates of economic hardship, and I think they’re right. But in the short term equality is going to be an easier sell, and spending inequality is going to be an easier message for shaming the segregationist dead-enders.
It really does amaze me that some folks are somehow expecting disadvantaged kids to meet the benchmarks with less money than richer kids. Obviously there’s more to student learning than money, but come on!