School funding shortfall = higher property taxes: PCCY

Mandated school district costs for special education, pensions, and charter school tuition increased by nearly $4 billion between 2011 and 2017. State funding during that time was less than $2 billion, meaning PA school districts had to cover the $2 billion shortfall through cuts to programs and staff, increasing property taxes, or both.

The financial situation in many districts is tenuous, highlighting that districts need greater state support, according to the PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) and the PA Association of School Administrators (PASA), who released a budget report today with the latest snapshot of the challenges facing the Commonwealth’s education system.

The report is based on survey responses from school districts as well as publicly available data from annual financial reporting.

The report notes that the costs for special education services, including programs, transportation or private placements, increased for all 500 school districts, accounting for $1 billion of the 2011-2017 increase. According to survey respondents, an increase in the number of special education students is the leading reason for the hike in costs.

Respondents also shared a sobering look at common tactics districts employ to cover rising mandated costs. While 25% indicated that class sizes increased in their districts, nearly 40% of respondents indicated they had to shift existing staff across schools or grade levels to avoid filling vacancies.

Most alarmingly, the report showed school administrators anticipated the reduction of 740 full time equivalent school district positions in the current academic year. 

Governor Wolf handily won reelection, picking up 800,000 extra votes, including in counties that President Trump won, a stunning reaffirmation of his mandate to fix the Commonwealth’s education system. 

In his first term, Wolf delivered the bipartisan fair funding formula, which, although not fully funded, was an accomplishment in and of itself. And, of course, we also include the restoration of $1 billion in education cuts made under the Corbett administration as a win.

But it’s a challenge to cheer the restored $1 billion when a $2 billion shortfall sits oppressively upon the education system the governor champions.

The changes to education funding will, according to Wolf “take time”. But that’s of no help to students because that time amounts to the tragic loss of even more opportunities for students to succeed in school and life. We humbly suggest that instead of time, the Governor focuses on will.
Now in his final term, the political realities of partisan dysfunction in the Capitol must take a back seat to the unforgiving realities students face every day.
Elections should matter, as should the will of voters. It’s time to put the sheep’s clothing away.

From Public Citizens for Children and Youth