It’s Time for Pennsylvania to Stop Discriminating Against Black Kids

Guess which city gets hurts most by the state's school funding formula?

Philly classrooms aren't quite this empty this fall, but they're shedding students more quickly than expected.

Last week’s news was filled with important stories about the gubernatorial election and a couple of major, sordid crimes, so if you missed out on the somewhat quieter news generated by David Mosenkis, it’s no wonder. But it’s important enough that the news needs to be repeated — indeed, to be shouted from the mountaintops.

The news is this: The school funding system in Pennsylvania is — there’s no nice word for it — racist.

“An analysis of enrollment, demographics, and basic education funding of Pennsylvania’s 501 public school districts reveals dramatically higher per-student funding in districts with predominantly white populations compared to economically similar districts with more racial diversity,” said the study by Mosenkis, a Mount Airy data analyst. (See the summary below.)

In other words: In Pennsylvania, white kids get more. Black kids get less.

And startlingly, this isn’t one of those times where “black” means “poor” and “white” means “rich.” Poor white kids get more funding than poor black kids. Somewhat richer — but mostly white — districts get more funding than their mostly black counterparts.

“You would expect that race or color of the students shouldn’t make more of a difference than, say, height or weight,” Mosenkis told The Notebook, which has written several articles about his study. “But to see such a clear delineation based on race tells me that the current funding is biased based on this factor.”

Now, such a disparity is wrong, wrong, wrong, no matter where it happens. It’s also wrong whether or not it’s intentional; there’s no evidence in Mosenkis’ study to suggest the disparity deliberate.

But I don’t have to tell you which school district in the state has the most black students, do I?

When African Americans get short shrift in Pennsylvania, it’s almost always Philly that bears the burden.

It makes all the recent struggles surrounding our school system even more frustrating. It’s aggravating that the district administration and the district teachers are at odds over money, when the two sides ought to be united in providing the best possible education for our students. And it’s nothing short of infuriating to bear the haughtiness of legislators in Harrisburg who act like they’re doing us a huge favor — and even then can barely be bothered to do it — by letting us tax ourselves to pay for the education they’ve not bothered to provide.

Well, enough of that. It’s damn well time for the state to stop discriminating against black kids.

One way or another, Pennsylvania’s school funding system (such as it is) is about to undergo a major challenge. Today, a coalition of plaintiffs — including six districts, the state NAACP, and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia — plans to announce “legal action” against the state for its failures to meet their responsibility under the state constitution to provide an adequate education for students. (More on that later this morning.)

If we’re lucky, though, that lawsuit could become moot within a few months. Governor-elect Tom Wolf has said he wants to adopt a full and equitable funding formula for the state’s schools; Republicans, whose rural constituents are getting ever-angrier about the property taxes their local districts use to supplement state funding, might be willing to make a deal on the topic.

The good thing is that Mosenkis has the attention of city leaders with his study.

“This diagram suggests that children who are most in need of resources are receiving the fewest amount of resources,” Philly Superintendent William Hite told The Notebook.

He’s right. It’s time for the state to stop discriminating against black kids. It’s time for the state to stop discriminating against Philly.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.