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Philadelphia schools rely on $1.8 billion in federal pandemic to stay out of red ink

By Tom Gantert and Brett Rowland | The Center Square

(The Center Square) – The Philadelphia public school district is relying on $1.8 billion in federal COVID-19 funding to stay out of a deficit.

The district’s audited budget said the one-time COVID-19 relief money is expected to keep the district out of the red through fiscal year 2025.

The school district received $6,941 per pupil in the three rounds of federal funding that came between May 2020 and March 2021. School districts with more low-income students received far more federal relief funding.

“Fiscal Year 2022 is projected (based upon the amended budget) to have a positive operating fund balance of $283.9 million due to the federal stimulus funds from the pandemic,” the district stated in its 2021 audited budget. “Federal stimulus money and the return of higher levels of local tax revenues is projected to allow the District to maintain a positive fund balance through Fiscal Year 2025.”

Efforts were unsuccessful to get the district to comment on the impact of the federal pandemic stimulus on its budget.

The federal pandemic relief funding is weighted to favor of districts with a higher percentage of low-income students. Philadelphia was not the only district to benefit from that funding formula. Pittsburgh’s public school district received $124.8 million in the same three rounds of emergency funding, or $6,203 per pupil.

However, just 15 miles down the road, the more affluent community that hosts North Allegheny saw that school district get $1.6 million from the three rounds of federal funding, or $190 per pupil, about $6,000 less per pupil than Pittsburgh. The affluent Pittsburgh suburbs that are home to Seneca Valley School District received $2.8 million in total federal emergency funding, or $372 per pupil.

Six school districts filed a lawsuit against the state in 2014 claiming that poorer community school districts have less money per pupil than wealthier communities school districts. The six school districts in the lawsuit received per pupil funding that ranged from $3,343 per pupil to $10,263 per pupil in the three rounds of federal funding.

The six districts in the lawsuit are Panther Valley ($3,343 per pupil), William Penn ($4,246 per pupil), Wilkes-Barre ($4,982 per pupil), Lancaster ($5,224 per pupil), Shenandoah Valley ($5,640 per pupil) and Greater Johnstown ($10,263 per pupil).

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The Center Square was launched in May 2019 to fulfill the need for high-quality statehouse and statewide news across the United States.

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