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Gap between rich, poor schools in Pennsylvania doubled in 4 years

| Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, 5:42 p.m.

The gap between what wealthy districts and poor districts spend to educate children has widened dramatically in the four years since GOP Gov. Tom Corbett took office, amid deep budget-balancing cuts in state aid under Republican-controlled Harrisburg and long-delayed pension obligation payments coming due.

Gaps that existed when Corbett took office have more than doubled, according to an Associated Press analysis of state data on spending, income and attendance.

The growing disparity that Corbett's successor, Democrat Tom Wolf, will inherit has helped Pennsylvania earn the label in one study as being among the worst states in educational disparity.

Pennsylvania plays one of the smallest roles in school funding of any state, leaving poorer school districts too reliant on inadequate and often-shrinking local tax bases, the system's critics say. Bringing the poorest districts into parity with their wealthier counterparts could easily require $1 billion or more.

Shown the AP's figures, Jim Buckheit of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators said the gap has “exploded.”

This school year, districts in the top half of average resident income are budgeted to spend nearly $1,800 more per student than the poorer half of districts. That's a 140 percent increase in the size of the gap, or about $1,060 more per student, since the 2010-11 school year, according to the AP's analysis.

Figures for 2014-15 are not final and could change slightly as data is updated on attendance and amounts spent.

But Buckheit and officials with other education advocacy groups agreed that the trend shown by the data is undeniable.

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