K-12 Education

K-12 education in Pennsylvania is both inadequately and inequitably funded. The state share of education funding has been falling since the 1970s and Pennsylvania now ranks 46th in the nation in terms of state contribution to K-12. We also have a greater funding disparity than any other state, with poor districts receiving 33% less in funding per student than the state’s most affluent districts.

Issue Basics

The state government shares responsibility for funding K-12 schools with 500 local school districts across the Commonwealth. Funds raised locally must supplement state funds, and these local funds are primarily raised via property taxes. Compared to other states, a relatively low share of total funding for K-12 education comes from the state; local governments have had to raise property taxes to make up the difference, leading to some communities in our state facing extremely high property taxes (although property taxes in PA are not high, on average, compared to other states).

Local communities’ overreliance on funding from property taxes results in big gaps in funding between school districts because local districts vary widely in income and wealth. In fact, Pennsylvania has a greater funding disparity than any other state, with poor districts paying 33% less than the state’s most affluent districts. The wealthiest school districts are spending $114,000 more per classroom than the lowest spending districts. Schools attended primarily by students of color are especially harmed by our inequitable funding.

After about a $1 billion cut in state spending on K-12 education in 2011-2012 under Governor Corbett, state spending has increased in subsequent years. The $1 billion cut was restored; but in the meantime, local schools have had to deal with inflation and higher pension costs.

In June 2015, Pennsylvania enacted a fair funding formula aimed at addressing the disparity that exists between rich and poor school districts. This legislation requires all new education funding to be distributed using this new funding formula. The formula ensures that new funding takes into account each school district’s distinct needs, including the number of students, the number of children living in poverty, the number of English language learners, the overall income and wealth, and the “tax effort” made by each district—that is, how much money it raises for schools locally, relative to its income and wealth. While this fair funding legislation and the new funds that flow through the formula have been critical to restoring the funding cut from K-12 education under Governor Corbett, they have not eliminated Pennsylvania’s school funding inequities. One reason is that the funding formula only applies to new money added to the Basic Education Funding (BEF) subsidy since 2014-15, and state funding before 2014-15 was distributed unfairly. The other is that not enough money has been added to the funding formula. To adequately and equitably educate our children, Pennsylvania must increase the basic education funding allocated through the fair formula by at least $3.7 billion over several years. For a more detailed look at solutions, see our We The People policy piece.

Recommended Reading on K-12 education

Affidavit Filed by KRC Labor Economist Mark Price as Part of School Funding Lawsuit in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s constitution stipulates that the General Assembly must provide “a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve...

KRC Files Affidavit in PA School Funding Lawsuit

In July of 2018, petitioners in Pennsylvania’s school funding lawsuit filed a brief and affidavits refuting the claim made...

KRC Files Affidavit in PA School Funding Lawsuit

Last week petitioners in Pennsylvania’s school funding lawsuit filed a brief and affidavits refuting the claim made by the...