Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Poor schools take biggest budget hit

March 27, 2011- Under other circumstances, officials of the Clairton City School District would be joyful over being ranked fourth out of 500 school districts in the state.

But the recent list that gave the district that designation is one that ranks districts based on the amount of state aid per student they stand to lose in Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed education budget. Clairton will see a reduction of $1,480 per student.

"This just reinforces and confirms the bad news we already got and that's that we are losing significant dollars," said Clairton acting business consultant Charles Lanna. "It's the same picture in another way and these are big losses."

The list of districts ranked by their total losses per student was released last week by state Rep. Joseph Markosek, D-Monroeville, the Democratic chair of the state House Appropriations Committee. The rankings also show the poverty concentration of the districts, illustrating what school officials have said since the release of the his proposed budget — that poor districts are taking the biggest hits.

That's because poor districts depend upon state funding for larger portions of their budget, while wealthier districts fund the majority of their budgets through local real estate taxes. In Mr. Corbett's budget, not only were basic education subsidies reduced to all districts, but funding was eliminated for such programs as after-school tutoring, full-day kindergarten and charter school tuition reimbursement, funding lines that affect largely the less wealthy districts.

Mr. Markosek wasn't available for an interview, but Miriam Fox, executive director for the committee on appropriations for the House Democrats, said the reason for the rankings is to personalize the loss to the districts.

"Sometimes when you focus on statewide numbers and districtwide numbers, you don't see what it means to the individual students. I think this really tells the story and provides a much more complete picture," Ms. Fox said.

Local school officials say the rankings speak for themselves. Six districts in Western Pennsylvania are among the top dozen with the largest losses per student. The Duquesne City School District ranks second in the state with a per pupil loss of $2,561, a total that doesn't factor in the district's loss of a nearly $2 million basic education formula enhancement line item that was eliminated in the governor's budget.


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