PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says Pennsylvania has the largest spending gap between rich and poor school districts — and that must change.
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that high-poverty school districts spent 15.6 percent less than those in the group with the least poverty.
In Pennsylvania, that difference was 33 percent — much larger than the next-closest state, Vermont, which had a spending difference of 18 percent between the top and bottom groups. Three others — Illinois, Missouri and Virginia — had gaps of 17 percent.
"The children who need the most seem to be getting less and less, and the children who need the least are getting more and more," Duncan said on a conference call with reporters Friday as he urged lawmakers to see that schools in poor districts get more resources as Congress weighs reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The figures officials cited divide each state's school districts into four groups: low-poverty, low-middle-poverty, high-middle-poverty and high-poverty. In the poorest quarter of Pennsylvania school districts, expenditures per student excluding most federal funds total $9,387, compared to $12,529 for the wealthiest quarter, again excluding most federal funds.
Pennsylvania is among 23 states in which a total of 6.6 million students from low-income families are "being shortchanged when it comes to state and local education funding," Duncan said.
"We still have school systems that are fundamentally separate and unequal," he said.
An Associated Press analysis in December of state data on spending, income and attendance indicated that the gap between what wealthy districts and poor districts spend to educate children widened dramatically in the past four years amid deep budget-balancing cuts in state aid and long-delayed pension obligation payments coming due.
The School District of Philadelphia has announced that Duncan is scheduled to visit a public school in south Philadelphia on Friday along with state and city officials.