How Can Education Spending Be Going Up?

AnswersOne educator wrote in response to our information on school spending, asking how we arrived at our figures. According to the PSEA, he noted, “funding HAS DECREASED under Mr. Corbett NOT INCREASED!!”

We’re happy to answer the question!

The PSEA chart represents the “Basic Education” line item in the state budget (including federal stimulus funds), which covers regular education allocated by a funding formula to school districts. It represents just a little over half of the funding for Pennsylvania’s entire PreK-12 system in the state budget. It excludes other programs such as special education, early childhood education, pension payments for teachers, and school nutrition.

In addition, the PSEA chart includes $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funding that directly supported school districts through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which caused the surges you can see in years 2009-10 and 2010-11. As our chart shows, funding for public schools from state tax dollars dipped in those years as stimulus dollars flowed in.

We excluded the stimulus funding in our charts because it was a one-time infusion from the federal government that temporarily boosted spending on PreK-12 education (and other parts of the state budget). School districts now have to re-orient their spending to levels before the stimulus arrived, and that’s affecting their budgets across the state and nation.

Given the two-year blip in funding, it’s important to understand the overall trend—in the last 15 years, total spending per student in Pennsylvania has grown 38 percent. As the tough economy lingers, we need to examine how to prioritize spending in our schools to preserve arts and sports programs and reward good educators, for the benefit of our students.