Vaccines – Just the Tip of the Iceberg
To be sure, when anything is in short supply, folks immediately want to know if they are getting their fair share. The firestorms over the suburban Philadelphia counties’ access to vaccines has created a shocking public schism between local Democratic lawmakers and Governor Wolf. This public display of acrimony among Democrats has been brewing for years as elected leaders in the five southeastern counties have had to accept the fact that on a per-capita basis the southeast is shortchanged not just on life-saving vaccines, but the region’s children have been denied their share of life-changing state education funding.
Last week, the enterprising Inquirer columnist Maria Panaritis exposed the state’s failure to allocate its limited vaccine supply fairly. A spark was lit among suburban lawmakers, who finally understood why they were having such a hard time getting residents vaccinated. In each southeastern county, officials knew the supplies were far short of the need, but they hadn’t pieced together that the highest population centers in the state were intentionally shortchanged by the state’s methodology for distributing vaccines county-by-county.
The Wolf Administration is adamant that they made the best decisions on behalf of all the residents of the Commonwealth – a tough position to maintain in light of the exposed inequities. The fact is counties with far less residents than the four Philadelphia collar counties received far more vaccine doses per capita. Consider Delaware Country, where more than a half a million people live, was shipped 9113 vaccines per 100,000 in February. That’s two thirds the doses per 100,000 sent to Bradford County with 60,000 residents. A quick rank order of all counties demonstrates that none of the suburban counties received vaccines that reflect their share of the state’s population.
The highly visible and feisty public indignance over the unfair vaccine distribution is welcome and more than overdue. We have become all too accustomed to agencies in Harrisburg announcing allocations that shortchange the southeastern counties.
Consider the fact that on average, the five-county region’s 61 school districts, receive about $1,800 per student, compared to about $4,500 for districts outside the southeast. Read that line again: $1,800 vs. $4,500 per student!
To add insult to injury, since 1994 per-student funding for districts in the southeast has grown by about 79% – essentially just keeping pace with inflation – while it has grown by 123% for districts outside the southeast. As a result, residents in the southeast are forced to pay higher property taxes to make up for the shortfall, with the typical resident paying 6.1% of their income to property taxes in the southeast compared to 4% in other parts of the state.
It looks pretty bad when it comes to access to Pre-K funds as well. Insufficient funding and bad policy decisions mean that despite the sheer number of 3 and 4 year old children in the southeast suburban counties and Philadelphia, a smaller proportion of children are actually enrolled in the program compared to other counties with fewer children. To be more specific, Philadelphia ranks 14th across all counties in the percentage of 3 and 4 year olds able to enroll in the state’s Pre-K Counts program but Philadelphia has more 3 and 4 year olds than the top 13 counties combined. The story is far worse for the suburban counties, where all four counties (Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Bucks) are all ranked in the bottom 13 of all counties for number of children enrolled in Pre-K Counts, even though they rank in the top 8 for total number of 3 and 4 year olds.
The source of the intra-state dispute is a shortage of resources: from vaccines to state funds for schools and Pre-K, there is just not enough to go around. The root of the solution may be the newfound voice of empowered local leaders who are jointly laying claim to our fair share of state resources that at their core save lives.