Philly mayor, school board objected to COVID fund distribution

School Board President Joyce Wilkerson and Superintendent Hite joke during introductory remarks
Philadelphia Board of Education Joyce Wilkerson with Superintendent William Hite (Greg Windle/The Notebook)

Mayor Jim Kenney and city council president Darrell Clarke sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf in August complaining about how the state distributed $174 million in coronavirus relief funds to school districts, saying it denied the Philadelphia school district, the state’s largest, its “fair share” of the money.

A report issued this week by two state education advocacy organizations said that districts serving low-income, mostly Black and Latino students were shortchanged by the process. The groups urged state leaders to distribute any additional federal funds by using the state’s basic education formula, which takes into account factors such as poverty and the number of English language learners.

The letter from Kenney and Clarke called the formula the state used “inequitable” and called for Wolf to use his emergency education money to fix the disparity and “ensure Philadelphia students receive their fair share of state funding.”

Republican legislative leaders devised the formula used to distribute the health and safety grants — giving each of the state’s 500 school districts a baseline of $120,000 and then allocating the rest based on total enrollment. The result: Philadelphia received less per student than any other district, according to the letter. 

After the Keystone Research Center and Education Voters PA released the report, Wolf, a Democrat, said he agreed the money should have been distributed using the state’s basic education funding system, also known as the “fair funding” formula. 

“The District’s share would increase from $13 million to more than $40 million if the Fair Funding Formula was used to distribute these funds,” the letter said. The district’s chief financial officer, Uri Monson, told the board last week that it may have to do layoffs or furloughs because of shrinking revenue and rising costs from  the coronavirus pandemic.

The Philadelphia Board of Education first objected to the distribution method when the money was allocated last spring. Board president Joyce Wilkerson said the formula “benefited wealthy suburban schools at the expense of large, urban schools. These are the same school districts that face the biggest hurdles and expenses related to reopening.”

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