Governor Wolf’s proposed education budget finally restores K-12 classroom funding cuts (in nominal dollars) from the Corbett years, but Pennsylvania still has a long way to go to reach funding equity and adequacy.
Governor Wolf’s Executive Budget for 2018-19 proposes increases in K-12 education for the fourth year in a row. His proposal this year, if accepted, reaches an important milestone—the disastrous cuts to education instituted under Tom Corbett will be restored.
There are various ways to evaluate education spending, depending on what lines in the state budget are included. At PBPC we generally focus on what we call classroom funding–that is the funding from the General Fund that goes directly to the classroom. And classroom funding will finally be restored to its 2010-11 level. In 2011-12 then-Governor Corbett took a hatchet to the K-12 education budget, decreasing classroom funding by $841 million. These budget cuts devastated public schools around the state as school districts were forced to lay off thousands of teachers, guidance counselors, and school nurses and eliminate programs that many students benefited from. The restoration of these cuts are in and of themselves something to acknowledge and celebrate.
That said, it is important to note that the numbers in the above chart are in nominal dollars and not adjusted for inflation. Inflation would be about 15% between 2010-11 and 2018-19, which means the money actually needed to get the same level of services as of 2010-11 would be an additional $911 million on top of what was proposed this year. So, while this year’s proposal represents an important milestone in terms of inching our way back towards funding levels pre-Corbett, we still have a long way to go in terms of truly resolving the impact of these funding cuts and creating a more equitable school funding system.
Pennsylvania’s public schools are underfunded and face great disparities between rich and poor school districts. In fact, Pennsylvania has the greatest disparities of any other state, with poor school districts spending 33% less per student than our most affluent districts. And the reason stems from inadequate state funding for public education. Only 37% of K-12 funding comes from the state, compared to the national average of 47%, which means that local school districts must foot most of the bill. And as you can imagine, an over-reliance on local school districts to fund schools leads to great inequities between school districts based on the income and wealth of the communities in which they are located and raise funds from.
In addition to education equity, there is the question of education adequacy. How much funding is actually needed to ensure all our schools are funded to properly and adequately educate Pennsylvania’s students?
The Public Interest Law Center concluded that the state would need to add at least $3.26 billion to education funding in order to give every student an adequate education. Almost every school district in Pennsylvania would need more funding but because of the inequity in how we fund schools, school districts in communities with higher levels of poverty would need much more.
In the figure below, we divide up the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania into four quartiles based on the percent of children ages 5-17 living below the poverty level – 1 being high poverty and 4 being low poverty. We then show the average amount of funding needed for each group of districts to provide an adequate education by this standard. This figure shows that the gap in funding to reach adequacy is much wider for the higher poverty districts. To reach adequacy, funding in the poorest districts would need to increase by $3,614 per student. While the lowest poverty school districts’ gap is much smaller (with $839 per student needed to reach adequacy), it is important to note that a gap still exists.
Raising another $3.26 billion for our schools is a heavy lift. Most of the money would have to come from the state. But the various tax proposals we have put forward would, over time, generate that much money and more, while allowing us to reduce taxes for working people and the middle class.
Restoring the Corbett funding cuts is a notable and important accomplishment for Governor Wolf given the deep cuts in 2011-12 and the challenging political environment. But we have a long way to go in Pennsylvania to ensure all students, regardless of their family’s income or the wealth of their communities, get the education they need and deserve.