6 Trends in Public School Spending

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The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently updated files from public schools’ annual financial reports and enrollment reports. Here are six key trends from those data.

1. Public school revenue continues to exceed $14,000 per student.

In 1995-96, federal, state and local dollars for school districts equaled $7,200 per student (or about $10,667 adjusted for today’s dollars).  Last year, revenue exceeded $14,000 per student, a 33% increase after adjusting for inflation.[1]

Revenue Per Student

2. State spending on public schools is at an all-time high. Critics claim that Gov. Corbett “cut $1 billion” in education spending in the state budget.  But in 2011-12, federal stimulus funding—$1.3 billion of which was used for public education in 2010-11—disappeared.  The following year, the state budget increased state dollars for public schools by $480 million. 

The 2013-14 budget would spend nearly $10 billion on PreK-12 education.  This represents a record high, even greater than state plus federal stimulus dollars.[2]

 State Spending K-12

3. Despite claims of severe budget cuts, school districts’ fund balances grew last year.

School districts increased their fund balances in 2011-12 by more than $200 million.  As of June 2012, they held $3.5 billion in total reserve funds.[3]

 School District Reserves

4. Staffing levels increased while enrollment declined over the past decade.

In the last two years, schools have reduced their total staffing.  Yet despite this short-term decline, public school staff has increased by more than 17,000 since 2000.  Over the same time period, enrollment dropped by nearly 60,000 students.[4] 

 Enrollment and Staff

5. Property taxes grew at the second-lowest rate in 30 years in 2012.

Critics who demanded higher state spending on public education claimed that last two budgets would force higher property taxes.  Yet school property tax growth in 2011-12 (2.9%) was the second-lowest rate of growth in 30 years, only topped by the slight decrease when property tax “relief” money hit from gambling.[5]

 Property Taxes

6. Charter school enrollment continues to grow at high rates.

Charter schools continue to be an immensely popular public school choice for Pennsylvania families. In just five years, charter school enrollment has grown 64%, while cyber charter enrollment grew 57% over the same period.[6]

Charter Enrollment

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Nathan Benefield is director of policy analysis and Priya Abraham is a senior policy analyst with the Commonwealth Foundation. 

[1] Pennsylvania Department of Education, “Revenue Data for All LEAs,” 1995-96 to 2011-12, http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/summaries_of_annual_financial_report_data/7673/afr_excel_data_files/509047.
[2] Pennsylvania Department of Education budget presentation, “Education Innovation in Pennsylvania: Governor Corbett’s 2013-14 Education Budget,” February 5, 2013; http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/news_and_media/7234/p/1089220; Pennsylvania Office of the Budget, “Governor’s Executive Budget 2012-13,” http://www.budget.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/past_budgets/4571
[3] Pennsylvania Department of Education, “General Fund Balance: 1996-97 to 2011-12,” http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/summaries_of_annual_financial_report_data/7673/other_financial_information/509049
[4] Pennsylvania Department of Education, “Public School Enrollment Reports,” http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/enrollment/7407; “Professional and Support Personnel Data and Statistics,” http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/professional_and_support_personnel/7429.
[5] Pennsylvania Department of Education, “Local Property Taxes Collected: 1981-82 to 2011-12,” http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/summaries_of_annual_financial_report_data/7673/other_financial_information/509049.
[6] Pennsylvania Department of Education, “Public School Enrollment Reports,” http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/enrollment/7407.