pa back to school trends

Pennsylvania Schools Have a Student Shortage: Districts on Hiring Spree Even as Enrollment Falls

Harrisburg, PA – The Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s leading free-market public policy research organization, reported today that despite declining public school enrollments, Keystone State school funding has significantly increased fueling a significant expansion of non-classroom personnel.  

The full Commonwealth Foundation education trends report can be found here.   

The report’s key findings include:

  • Since 2000, Pennsylvania public school enrollment has dropped 6.6 percent (120,000 fewer students); but public schools have added 20,000 more employees (8.7 percent growth), including nearly 40 percent growth among administrators.
  • The average Pennsylvania public school teacher earns $71,000 in salary, the 11th highest in the nation. 
  • Pennsylvania school districts spent $19,900 per student in 2020–21, ranking 8th in the nation at more than $4,000 more than the national average.
  • State support of public education is up 47 percent over the last decade, reaching an all-time high of $14.7 billion in 2022-23.
  • Pennsylvania school districts are stockpiling taxpayer resources, with over $5.29 billion in general reserve funds and another $4.72 billion (includes charter schools and other public schools) in unspent federal pandemic aid still sitting in the treasury.

“Growing budgets and shrinking enrollment impacts the ability of many schools to fill teacher positions,” said Nathan Benefield, Commonwealth Foundation vice president. “Schools with teacher vacancies are forced to compete with schools that have declining enrollments, which retain funding and have no incentive to reduce teaching staff.

“The challenge is not overall funding, which is at record highs, it’s that we fund buildings not children,” he said. “A better approach would be to link funding to students, directing money where it is most needed, so schools adjust to declining or growing enrollment to meet the needs of students.”

The report also notes that Pennsylvania “school districts spend, on average, $20,000 per teacher in pension contributions to pay off unfunded liabilities.”

Benefield recommends that state lawmakers shift from the current retirement system to a 401k-style plan. “If Pennsylvania had enrolled all employees in a defined contribution plan, like a 401k, there would be no pension debt to pay off,” Benefield writes in the report. “Had lawmakers done so, Pennsylvania public schools could be paying teachers an additional $20,000 per year, without increasing overall spending.”

To schedule an interview with the report’s author, Nathan Benefield, contact Stefanie Mason at [email protected] or by phone at (414) 418-5132


The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.