‘Underfunded’ Pa. Schools
Spend Nearly $16,000 Per Pupil
District Reserves Reach $4.3 Billion in 2014-15 as Attendance Declines
June 14, 2016, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Contradicting the claim that Pennsylvania underfunds its school system, public school spending hit an all-time high in the 2014-15 school year, approaching $27.4 billion—or $15,854 per student—according to the latest state Department of Education data.
Pennsylvania is among the top ten states in the nation in school spending, having increased total spending by $1.3 billion over 2013-14 levels. Meanwhile, student attendance (average daily membership) fell by 12,000.
(School District Expenditures)
“The numbers don’t lie—we are not underfunding public schools,” commented James Paul, senior policy analyst for the Commonwealth Foundation. “Any way you slice it, Pennsylvania is well above the national average in school spending. Our priority should be ensuring this money is spent wisely before demanding more from taxpayers.”
From 2013-14 to 2014-15, school district pension payments surged $500 million—the largest jump in history—capping a trend that has seen pension costs quadruple in the last six years. Despite this additional budget strain, districts banked an additional $200 million in reserves, bringing reserve fund totals to $4.3 billion statewide.
(School District Reserve Fund Balances)
“The fact that districts managed to sock away $200 million in reserve funds while pension costs skyrocketed by $500 million should be an eye-opener for those who believe we aren’t spending enough on public schools,” Paul continued. “Now that the bi-partisan fair education funding formula has been signed into law, policy makers should address the pension crisis that has spurred property tax hikes across the state.
“If money could buy results, we’d be at the head of the class in education achievement. The fact is, while school spending has increased, student achievement has flat-lined. Instead of throwing even more money at the problem, we should expand school choice options for families in poor-performing districts and ensure education spending is supporting students, not a broken pension system.”
Click here for more analysis of 2014-15 school district spending data.
James Paul and other Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Gina Diorio at 862-703-6670 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview.
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