Rising Poverty Poses New Challenges for Delaware County School Districts and the Future of the County

Public education in Delaware County is a study in contrasts.  It has a countywide graduation rate 3% higher than the state average, but lags behind the other Southeastern Pennsylvania counties.  Delaware County’s median income is significantly above the national average, yet one in three students live in low-income households—and the share of low income students is rising.  Delaware County is home to some of the highest performing districts in the state, but nearly 25% of students in Delco are below grade level in reading and 27% are below grade level in math.  The annual per pupil spending in Delaware County’s top district is nearly two-thirds higher than in its lowest spending district.  One thing is for certain, without a fair funding formula for public education, Delaware County will remain divided between the haves and have-nots.

Chronic underfunding and rising poverty presents new challenges for school district and county leadership.  Radnor Township School District is a case in point.  There, median family income is three times the national average and about 90% of all students scored proficient or advanced on the PSSA math exam.  But that number drops to 60% or below for Black and economically disadvantaged students.  In the Chester-Upland School District, with highest concentration of low-income students, less than a third all students tested proficient or advanced on the PSSA, both in the math and reading sections.

PCCY’s analysis on school funding found that if Pennsylvania were to reinstate the funding formula adopted in 2008 by the Pennsylvania state legislature, Delaware County School Districts would receive more than $45 million in additional funding in this year alone. 

Unfortunately, right now that seems like a remote possibility.  Pennsylvania now ranks as one of only three states without a funding formula for education.  Without knowing how much money is coming in from the state year-to-year, school districts cannot properly project their budgets or target resources to students who need extra help.  Add this to the billion dollar cut from public education in 2011, and you have a situation where more than 93% of school districts in Delaware County currently receive less state funding than they did in 2010 and are in the dark as to whether that will change.

Money alone will not solve all of Delaware County’s educational issues.  Performance disparities along racial and economic lines will take a concerted effort to close.  But as long as we shortchange the County by nearly $50 million a year all while student needs increase, those gaps will continue to grow.

Chart Source: Pennsylvania Department of Education