pa education spending

Pennsylvania’s Education Failures Could Cost Taxpayers Billions

Harrisburg, Pa., June 28, 2024 — Pennsylvania’s K–12 educational shortcomings could burden taxpayers with nearly $8.8 billion in added costs, according to the Commonwealth Foundation’s latest analysis. The report reveals the staggering societal and personal costs of low academic achievement, foreshadowing lower lifetime incomes for students and higher taxpayer burdens.

Students without a high school diploma earn $7,200 less annually on average than those with one and $29,100 less than workers with a bachelor’s degree. Forecasts by the Education Consumers Foundation (ECF) for the class of 2032 predict that 7,100 Pennsylvania kids will drop out of high school, and nearly 30,000 will graduate unprepared for college or a career. For each dropout, the state taxpayer burden is approximately $39,000 over the student’s lifetime, and unprepared graduates will require an additional $13,500 in state resources.

“The broader social, economic, and personal consequences of Pennsylvania’s K–12 educational failures are profound,” said Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation. “Beyond the staggering financial costs, we are condemning thousands of children to a life of limited opportunities and economic hardship. This crisis demands immediate action.”

For the class of 2032, the state and local cost for dropouts and unprepared high school graduates totals $674 million over their lifetimes, with federal costs adding another $2.1 billion. These failures extend beyond immediate financial implications, affecting long-term economic growth and social stability. Missed opportunities, job loss, welfare reliance, and incarceration are all potential consequences of education failure. 

Nationwide, school choice programs have a proven track record of improving long-term student outcomes. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania families are being left behind. Despite the nearly doubling of scholarships through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) since 2011, demand far exceeds supply. In the 2021–22 school year, Pennsylvania turned away more than 63,000 scholarship applicants due to state caps on these programs.

“Educational choice is not just a policy option; it is a necessary reform to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed,” Stelle continued. “Programs like Lifeline Scholarships would empower families to choose the best educational setting for their children, leading to better educational outcomes and a stronger Pennsylvania.”

The Commonwealth Foundation calls for expanding educational options, including Lifeline Scholarships, to improve student success and reduce the economic burden on taxpayers.

For more information on the high cost of K–12 educational failures and the need for educational reform, view the full report here.


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