What do you do when you want more money and you already boast the 3rd highest per-pupil revenue in the nation and the highest teacher salaries in the country? If you are part of the public education establishment, the answer is simple: Obfuscate. The ongoing effort to leverage additional public school funding out of Pennsylvania taxpayers relies on two myths: The state has reduced its “share” of funding for public schools, and it has created a “funding gap” by providing inequitable funding for economically disadvantaged and minority students.
This policy brief analyzes the most recent data available from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) and Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services to assess the validity of both the “state share” and the “funding gap” issues currently informing the school funding debate in Harrisburg. The analysis reveals a misrepresentation of the education funding facts by special interest groups attempting to secure additional revenue from the Commonwealth’s taxpayers.
In essence, the public school lobby argues that raising taxes should be a competitive sport; if local taxes increase by 200%, the state is obligated to match that or stand accused of failing to pay its “fair share.” In inflation-adjusted dollars, the state increased its average per-student appropriation to local districts by nearly 73% between 1969-70 and 2001-02. The unfortunate fact that local tax revenues increased at an even higher rate should not be twisted into a claim that the state failed to pay its fair share.
As for the allocation of state tax dollars to economically disadvantaged and minority students, Pennsylvania does indeed have a funding gap. However, the gap is not a deficit, but a surplus. In the 2001-02 school year, economically disadvantaged students received, on average, $1,030 more per student in state funding than did noneconomically disadvantaged students. Similarly, minority students received $722 more per student in state funding than did non-minority students. In terms of total local, state, and federal funding, economically disadvantaged and minority students also received more per-student funding—$309 and $1,017 more, respectively—than did noneconomically disadvantaged and non-minority students in 2001-02.