PA education spending soars to all-time high

(WTAJ) — Data from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) showed that taxpayer spending on public schools has consistently increased, reaching all-time highs year after year.

State support of public education is up 40 percent over the last decade, reaching an all-time high of $13.3 billion in 2021-22, an increase of $500 million from the previous year, according to the Commonwealth Foundation whose data comes from the PDE. This is also a $3.2 billion increase since Gov. Tom Wolf took office.

It’s reported Pennsylvania school district spending per student increased to $19,900. The Commonwealth Foundation said that Pennsylvania exceeds the total national average by nearly $4,000 for local, state and federal per-pupil spending on public schools and ranks No. 8 in the nation for total per-student public school funding.

These increases occurred before Pennsylvania distributed most of its pandemic federal aid and what Gov. Tom Wolf called the “largest public school funding increase in state history” back in June of 2021.

The Commonwealth Foundation noted that taxpayer-funded lobbyists who advocate for more spending claim that Pennsylvania’s “state share” of public school funding is relatively low despite the fact Pennsylvania outspends the nation.

Data released by the PDE also showed that public school districts stockpiled $5.29 billion in reserve funds in 2020-21, a 32.7 increase since 2013, according to the Commonwealth Foundation. Pennsylvania’s previous auditor general recommended that reserve funds be no more than 20 percent of the school district’s total spending, though it’s reported that 239 out of 500 of the state’s school districts have reserve funds exceeding that 20 percent. Instead, school districts, on average, have reserve funding equaling 22.56 percent of their spending.

As of May 2022. the Commonwealth Foundation mentioned that Pennsylvania public schools (including district and charter schools) also still have $5.46 billion in unspent federal pandemic aid per the Pennsylvania Treasury Accounting Bureau.

Despite the increase in spending, data from the PDE showed that student enrollment is falling. Since 2013, it’s reported enrollment has dropped by 7 percent. The largest drop occurred after 2019-20 following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commonwealth Foundation said almost 51,000 students left school districts.

Student performance still lags in public schools, as well, despite the increase in spending. It’s reported that approximately 78 percent of Pennsylvania eight-grade students are not proficient in math and 47 percent are not proficient in language arts. Given this data, Commonwealth Foundation noted that increasing taxpayer funding to public schools does not improve academic results.

For more information, visit commonwealthfoundation.org.