The perennial debate over education funding in Pennsylvania—when it is not about how much more schools should get—is about how the taxpayers should fund the schools. Current discussions across Pennsylvania are being fueled by citizens who have grown weary of being forced to pay ever-increasing school district property taxes.
Although Republicans and Democrats are in agreement over the need to reduce local school district property taxes, there is significantly less consensus on how to do so. To date, no less than 66 bills addressing the school property tax issue are pending in the General Assembly. The majority of the proposals under consideration do little to reform the current system but serve to shift the school tax revenue source by reducing local property taxes and increasing the state’s personal income, sales, and/or myriad other taxes.
One of the underlying premises in most of these tax-shifting schemes is that Pennsylvania’s government schools are under funded, and that they are under funded because the state has failed to pay its “fair share” of the cost of K-12 education.
An analysis shows that over the past three decades:
- Pennsylvania’s government school district total revenues increased by 739.1 percent—or more than double the concurrent rate of inflation—from $1.788 billion in 1968-69 to $15.003 billion in 1999-2000.
- State government contributions to local school districts increased by 668.2 percent—or nearly twice the concurrent rate of inflation—from $740 million in 1968-69 to $5.69 billion in 1999-2000.
- Total school district local revenues increased by 801.1 percent—or more than twice the concurrent rate of inflation—from $958 million in 1968-69 to $8.633 billion in 1999-2000.
- Local school boards increased property taxes by 814.4 percent—or more than twice the concurrent rate of inflation—from $708 million in 1968-69 to $6.474 billion in 1999-2000.
- State government’s share of total school district revenues has ranged between 37.1 percent (1990-91) and 44.7 percent (1974-75)—a fluctuation of merely 7.6 percentage points between 1968 and 2000.
The conclusion of this policy brief is that policymakers must carefully scrutinize claims that the public schools are under funded and that state taxpayers have been negligent in funding local school districts. The facts—instead of the myths promulgated by special interest groups—should guide any future policy decisions about Pennsylvania’s property-tax/school-funding system.
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The Policy Brief, Dispelling the Myth of Pennsylvania’s Under-Funded Public Schools can be accessed here.