Disparities in CARES Act Funding for Pennsylvania Schools

By Mellissa Chang
November 23, 2020

In August, Good Jobs First reported disparities in CARES Act funding for private and charter schools compared to public education. Further analysis indicates that a similar imbalance between private and public education persists at the state level in Pennsylvania.

Good Jobs First has identified 311 Pennsylvania private schools that received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), amounting to an estimated $225 million—approximately $724,000 per school.

The PPP was designed to support small businesses negatively impacted by the slowdown in economic activity caused by the pandemic. While private schools were eligible for PPP loans, public schools were not. Instead, public schools received funding from the Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).

Pennsylvania was allocated $523 million in ESSER grants for its 1,700+ Title I public schools. Although the ESSER program is primarily for public schools, private schools with Title I-eligible students are also entitled to a portion of these funds through equitable services rules. ESSER disclosures indicate that participating private schools received more than $19 million in ESSER grants, reducing the total funding for public schools to $505 million. This is approximately $290,000 per school—a difference of 2.5 to 1 compared to private schools.

The same trend can also be seen at the student level. PPP loans to private schools amount to approximately $2,495 per pupil. Meanwhile, only $777 was allocated for each Title I public school student, or $749 after the distribution of equitable shares to private schools.

Additionally, the Paycheck Protection Program and ESSER Fund were not the only sources of CARES Act funding available to private schools. Private schools were also eligible for grants and low-interest loans through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program. Private schools could receive loans from the PPP and EIDL programs and still receive grants from the ESSER fund. In fact, Good Jobs First has identified several Pennsylvania private schools that have received both PPP and EIDL loans, pointing to additional gaps in education funding.

These disparities raise serious questions about equity and access in education, as these funds heavily influence schools’ ability to open for safe, in-person learning or provide resources and technology for quality online classes. Without proper support, student outcomes suffer, and as the pandemic continues into the foreseeable future, it is likely that these effects will only be exacerbated.