While increasing public education funding rightly remains the top priority for Pennsylvanians after years of cuts, the Commonwealth Foundation conveniently confuses terms to try and slam the case for it. Let’s untangle their post:
- The Commonwealth Foundation states that Pennsylvania’s public education funding share is reasonable because the dollar amount of state revenue per student ranks 25th of all states nationwide.
Total state dollars alone is not “state share.”
“Share” is defined as a portion of something. Thus, “state share” of public education funding is defined as the percentage of total revenue going to school districts that is provided by the state or
In Pennsylvania, the state share for the 2012-13 school year was 36%. Meanwhile, the national average was about 46%. That puts Pennsylvania in the bottom five states nationally (46th). Here is the breakdown of Pennsylvania revenue shares compared to the national average:
Figure 1: US Census Bureau
Pennsylvania can have a state revenue per student rank of 22nd among states, but if its local revenue per student rank is sixth highest in the nation you shouldn’t be surprised that lopsided dependency on local revenue is reflected in the low state share of funding.
This low state share is not an “illusion” but a fact that results in extreme funding inequalities as poor school districts are unable to raise sufficient local revenue to make up for the low state share. Pennsylvania’s average in total revenue per student ranks ninth highest among states but masks two things:
Figure 2: Washington Post analysis
- Price levels across states are not the same. You cannot compare the total revenue per student across the states as if all states have the same price level. They don’t. A Pennsylvania dollar goes a lot further in a state like Idaho, so it makes no sense to compare the two based on dollars alone.
- Pennsylvania ranks as the worst state in the nation for state and local funding inequality between the poorest and wealthiest school districts. Funding does not meet need. Those with the highest need, the poorest school districts, should receive the highest state and local funding. Instead, they receive, on average, 34% less state and local revenue per student than their peers in the wealthiest school districts. That’s more than double the national average of 16%.
When you add federal funding, Pennsylvania still ranks as the third worst in the nation among states. Keep in mind that federal funding is not supposed to help lessen the funding inequality between the poorest and wealthiest school districts. Instead, it’s supposed to provide high-need students and districts with additional money.
The voters made education their top priority in the last election for a reason: our public schools need help. A system that is lopsidedly dependent on local revenue, and thus rising property taxes, does not match need with funding. Instead, it perpetuates a status quo that determines whether a child receives a quality education based on their zip code.
 U.S. Census Bureau, Public School System Finances, accessed June 16, 2016, http://www2.census.gov/govs/school/elsec13_sttables.xls (tab 5)
 Ibid, (tab 11).