RELEASE: From Cutback to Comeback: A Path Forward for Scranton and Its School District

For Immediate Release

November 4, 2021


Contact:   Kirstin Snow,


RELEASE: From Cutback to Comeback: A Path Forward for Scranton and Its School District

PA Budget and Policy Center Releases New Paper Outlining Challenges Faced by Scranton Schools, Community

Harrisburg, PA—The recovery plan developed for Scranton public schools by a state-appointed “Recovery Officer” has achieved financial stability but sacrificed quality public education, according to a new research report released today by the PA Budget and Policy Center. With unprecedented federal resources made available since the development of the recovery plan, Scranton can change course and invest in making great schools a lynchpin of city renewal.

The report analyzes the challenges faced by the Scranton School District, its 10,000 students, and the community at large, as well as opportunities for improvement in the months and years ahead.

Using the federal emergency relief provided in the pandemic, the report finds that Scranton School District has a historic opportunity to pivot away from the disinvestment of the past several years and lift up the entire community through improvement in its public school system. Great public schools are the lifeblood of any thriving community and are a particularly stabilizing force to low-income communities, especially when used as a hub for broader social support.

In recent years, however, Scranton’s schools have been under attack and undercut by misguided state policies, the report said. These policies include the longstanding failure of Pennsylvania to adequately fund public schools—Pennsylvania ranks 45th out of all states for the state share of school funding. The low state share of school funding leaves Scranton at a disadvantage because of its limited tax base and a student body that research shows is more expensive to educate (with two-thirds of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch). Today, per-pupil spending in Scranton School District ranks 31st-lowest out of the state’s 500 school districts.

Report co-author Stephen Herzenberg, noted, “Focused on the immediate bottom line, the recovery plan has sacrificed or threatened essential ingredients of quality education in a high-poverty community—ingredients such as pre-kindergarten, smaller classes, sufficient planning time in teachers’ days for lesson preparation and evaluating student progress, and pay high enough to attract and retain teachers with a mission to ‘make a difference’ in children’s lives.”

He added, “But additional resources from the federal government, and some new support even from the state, give the School District, the recovery officer, and the city room to rebound. Those resources must be used to restore pre-kindergarten, maintain reasonable class sizes, and pay teachers comparably to neighboring districts. The wages of Scranton teachers have fallen sharply in recent years relative to other Pennsylvania workers, who gained ground in the tight pre-pandemic labor market and in the pandemic.”

In 2019, with the district in perilous financial condition, the state appointed a recovery officer charged with guiding the District back to financial health. Unfortunately, the implementation of the resulting recovery plan has achieved financial stabilization at the expense of educational quality—jeopardizing the long-term well-being of the school system and the city. Several of the cost-cutting measures implemented under the plan directly sacrifice educational programming that research shows increases achievement, especially for low-income children:

  • Pre-kindergarten programs have been cut.
  • Class sizes have increased.
  • Inflation-adjusted teacher salaries have fallen.
  • Starting teachers in Scranton now make 14% less than in neighboring districts, increasing turnover and vacancies.
  • Teacher pay in Scranton has also declined relative to overall wage levels in Pennsylvania, with starting teachers now making 10% less than a typical (i.e., median wage) worker who works full time, full year.

The Recovery Plan has recognized—on paper—the need for more competitive salaries to attract and retain great teachers. Paradoxically, the Plan proposed to pay for salary increases through cuts in benefits, elimination of extra pay when teachers pick up extra classes, and increases in workloads that give teachers less time to prepare their classes or evaluate student work.

The Recovery Plan has successfully put a focus on the bottom line. But it has offered neither a full diagnosis of why Scranton—like other smaller Pennsylvania cities—struggles to adequately fund its public schools nor a vision and implementation plan for how the school district can pivot from being an agent of the city’s decline to a force for reinvigoration.

This report offers a diagnosis and prescription for renewal, including capitalizing nearly $60 million in federal resources to Scranton School District to

  • reinstate pre-k and maintain reasonable class sizes.
  • achieve the goal of “competitive compensation” highlighted in the Recovery Plan—that is, to pay teachers comparably to neighboring districts.
  • implement “community schools,” leveraging dollars from public agencies and non-governmental organizations for health care, housing, addiction services, and other social services that address community challenges that undercut educational achievement in low-income districts.

Longer-term, the City of Scranton, its school district, and its people must come together with other communities across the state to get the Pennsylvania legislature to step up to its constitutional responsibility for adequately and equitably funding schools.

  • The most recent state budget did include a first step through “Level Up” funding, which delivered $100 million to the most underfunded school districts annually, including $2.3 million to Scranton for 2021-22.
  • Another significant step would end the indefensible overpayment of charter schools, saving the Scranton School District more than $1.3 million annually under Governor Wolf’s reform proposal.

Long-term, fair taxation can raise billions for Pennsylvania public schools while lowering taxes for most Pennsylvanians and for the vast majority of Scrantonians.



The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is a nonpartisan policy research project that provides independent, credible analysis on state tax, budget, and related policy matters, with attention to the impact of current or proposed policies on working families.