Rep. Wild Highlights Funding Disparities in Allentown School District in Education and Labor Committee Hearing on Inequities in Public Education

April 30, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representative Susan Wild (PA-07) highlighted the disparities between the Allentown School District and surrounding suburban school districts, in a hearing in the Committee on Education and Labor on education inequities, titled “Brown v. Board of Education at 65: A Promise Unfulfilled.” She noted the Allentown School District, which is a majority-minority school district, is facing a $28 million dollar deficit and is at risk of being unable to make payroll.


Wild notes that the difference in funding comes from a funding structure that keeps affluent, predominantly white schools well-funded while schools in poorer communities with a majority of students of color, with inadequate funding –  ultimately resulting in fewer positive outcomes for students of color. The witness, Mr. John C Brittain, responded, “I would say that what you articulated is the 21st century form of what Brown vs. Board of Education was 65 years ago…. Today in the 21st century we’re dealing with  concentrated poverty and class.”


“Every student deserves a great education no matter their race, family income, or zip code. But that is not the case for many students of color in the America and at home in Pennsylvania’s Seventh District. I’m very proud of the Education and Labor Committee for taking on the challenge of fulfilling the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education for the first time in decades. We must do more to close the achievement gap and lift every child, family, and community with the power of a good education,” Wild said in response to the hearing.


Watch the full exchange here.

Video of full hearing here.


Transcript available below:

Rep. Wild: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would just note that the testimony of Mr. Pierre at age 25 fails to note that a better education has been closely correlated to increased stability in families. Having said that; I am also from Pennsylvania, as was one of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who asked you questions -- and this is for

Professor Brittain. EdBuild, a non-profit organization you're undoubtedly familiar with, focuses on common-sense and fairness in the way that states fund public schools. And it has produced a report finding a $23 billion racial funding gap between school districts serving students of color and school districts serving predominantly white students.


WildIn my district is the city of Allentown; it is the third-largest city in Pennsylvania, and it [the Allentown School District] is surrounded by suburban school districts that are predominantly Caucasian and have a robust property tax base. Allentown, on the other hand (the fourth-largest school district in Pennsylvania), is 71% Hispanic, 15% black, 10% white. It is currently facing a $28 million deficit for 2019-20. It [the school board] has stated that it may not be able to meet payroll, and they have a $60 million charter school bill, and of course, rising costs of English-language learning - predominantly because of an influx of students from Puerto Rico following the hurricane and of course, special education. So, with that as the backdrop, I'd ask you, Professor Brittain, if you could describe some of the disparities that we see between the experiences of students attending schools that are primarily white compared to the experiences of students attending schools that are primarily comprised of minority students. If you could, in your answer, address the differences in outcomes for these students after they leave school. Thank you. 


Professor John C. Brittain: Congresswoman Wild, I would say that what you articulated is the 21st century form of what Brown vs. Board of Education was 65 years ago. Brown dealt with the questions of race and was primarily white and black. Today, in the 21st century, we are dealing with concentrated poverty and class and just as de jure segregation, that is, by law, for white students to attend white schools/non-whites to attend non-white schools -- today, that barrier is the district boundary line. And what you described in Allentown and its surrounding districts is what Connecticut through its Supreme Court case in the 1996 Sheff v. O'Neill, said was the boundary line between urban and suburban - between some integrated and affluent and achieving and some poor and some highly racially-isolated districts and that was the cause of the inequality of education therefore that must therefore be the remedy. And that is where we are today…Linda do you have a few more statistics on those disparities? By the way, I have always said: I know where my legal expertise on educational equality ends and my ignorance on sound basic education policy begins. And therefore I have always surrounded myself and my pursuit for legal equality in education with intellectual scholars like Linda Darling-Hammond.


Dr. Linda Darling-HammondThat's very kind. Just in a word - outcomes of that segregated experience so that we know that children who have been to integrated schools which typically have greater resources have much better graduation rates, much better achievement, and higher wages later in life and lower poverty rates -- so we have a lot of evidence about that. 


WildAnd can we assume that during the in-school experience, that students in these school districts that are suffering financially and have become de facto segregated -- are having few elective courses, lower rates of teacher satisfaction -- I just mentioned that the City of Allentown may not be able to meet payroll, one can only imagine how that affects the ability of teachers to teach -- 


Darling-Hammond: Cancelled courses, larger class sizes, greater number of unqualified teachers (which gets back to the DC question that was asked earlier) -- high, high proportions in DC of teachers who are not trained -- same thing in schools like the ones you are describing in Pennsylvania. 


Wild: Older textbooks, fewer field trips –


Darling-HammondAll of that, and it's been documented over and over again.