Powerful Study Shows Why More State Dollars Are Needed For Schools

Stephen Herzenberg |

Within three years, MOST school districts in Pennsylvania will be cutting programs and laying off staff if we continue on the current path of school funding. While program eliminations and staff reductions are already the case in a number of lower-income districts, they could soon become the norm across the state, according to an updated report from Temple University’s Center on Regional Politics (authored by Drs. William Hartman and Timothy Shrom).

State limits on property tax increases and the very modest increases in state funding we’ve seen in the past few years mean that revenues in a growing number of districts aren’t able to keep up with known increases in costs. As school districts exhaust their reserves, cuts will follow if we don’t change this dynamic. We’ve already seen the impact of program and staffing losses on our schools during and immediately after the recession, and it isn’t a recipe for success.

This cuts to the heart of why we need a major infusion of additional state funding for school districts, and why it must be a key part of the 2015-16 state budget.

Doing the same thing is no longer a viable option if we want kids across the state to succeed.

From the report summary’s key findings:

Most school districts in Pennsylvania will not have sufficient revenues over the next three years to support their mandated and necessary expenditures. Sixty percent of the districts in the state will face severe and prolonged program and staff reductions to balance their budgets, which will reduce the quality of education in those districts and substantially widen the academc and fiscal gaps with more well-off districts.

One of the things the study makes clear is that a dollar-for-dollar swapping of state dollars for local property tax revenues  (as would be done by HB 504 which was recently passed by the House) makes zero difference for the school districts and their ability to provide critical services.

The report also recommends targeting new state Basic Education dollars to districts with the most need, rather than across-the-board increases in state funding.

The report offers some good news on school pension costs, where the increases will moderate beginning in 2017-18.

The 2015-16 budget offers a stark choice for Pennsylvania – doing more of the same and seeing many of our schools deteriorate, or finding new state funding for schools (in part, from a severance tax on natural gas) to make a major improvement. It is up to us to let lawmakers know which path to choose.