As we never tire of pointing out, over three-quarters of PA’s GDP comes from the top 5 largest metropolitan statistical areas. The biggest clusters of people are the biggest clusters of economic activity, and they are also the wellspring of state revenue from which the public programs in all other parts of the state are subsidized.
And the real money is coming from the urban cores. Many people take the high incomes they earn in the core cities back to home residences in separate and segregated tax bases in the suburbs. And one of the reasons they do that is that the schools are better-funded.
See the recursive segregation loop there? The suburban schools are better-funded, so rich mobile people move there, ensuring that the suburban schools always stay better-funded than the urban schools.
Of course the main reason the suburban schools are better-funded is that Pennsylvania primarily funds its schools in an extremely evil way, via local property taxes, and often local earned income taxes too. Needless to say, wealthy areas have higher fiscal capacity – a greater wealth and income base from which to tax themselves – and so they are able to provide better schools for themselves than poorer areas. Alternatively, the state could pay for 100% of public education costs, and provide an equal amount of education spending for each student.
One reason to do that would be that it is only right and moral to provide equal resources for each student, since the kids who win the rich white parents lottery already have a leg up in life, and it wouldn’t do to reinforce that advantage with a disproportionate allocation of the education dollars toward them.
But another reason to do this is the state economy and job growth. Underfunded urban schools push people to live in less productive regions. To pull another quote from this excellent Joe DiStefano article, underfunding the urban schools is going to pull more people to the suburbs, and increase the demand for land-hungry suburban housing:
If state officials were purposely trying to drive city tenants toward suburban developers, it’s hard to see what they’d do any differently.
This is bad for the state economy. Productivity rises with population density. Just by moving people into cities we make them more productive.
This isn’t the only reason the pace of job growth is so uniquely terrible under Tom Corbett, but the fact that the Republicans intentionally singled out urban areas all over the state for harsher education cuts is certainly one factor contributing to his pitiful job creation record. On balance, state policy is pushing people to live in sprawling low-density locales, and that’s hurting the statewide economy.