School Funding

Who pays for schools?
Pennsylvania school districts rely on public funding from local and state (and to a smaller extent, federal) sources. Many also receive some private funding through grants and special partnerships with non-profits or other organizations. In the U.S., states typically provide the bulk of school funding. However, Pennsylvania continues to rank in the bottom five states in the nation when it comes to the proportion of funding provided at the state level. This stinginess pushes responsibility for school funding down onto local municipalities, which often must raise property taxes to pay for schools. Over-reliance on local resources creates enormous inequities in public school funding, as wealthier districts are often able to afford far more than poorer districts.

How does the Pennsylvania school budget work?
When Governor Corbett took office in 2011, he slashed $1 billion from public education in Pennsylvania. He then froze those cuts into place in 2012. A tiny increase in the 2013 budget did not come close to restoring the education cuts and Pennsylvania schools are now missing a cumulative $2.3 billion.[i]  The state budget cuts immediately impacted our students, who lost 20,000 of their teachers as well as art, music, world language classes, librarians, paraprofessionals, tutoring programs, textbooks, supplies, fieldtrips, athletics, full day Kindergarten, transportation, and more.

What is the impact of state budget cuts on Pittsburgh?
Since Governor Corbett’s historic budget cuts to Pennsylvania’s public schools in 2011, the Pittsburgh Public School district has lost $26.8 million per year. Just a single year’s loss represents well over half (58%) of the entire projected PPS deficit of $46 million. The cumulative loss to PPS over the past three years totals $80.4 million – far exceeding the district’s entire expected shortfall in 2015. In other words, the loss of state funding has been devastating to Pittsburgh students and is the single largest threat to the district’s financial well-being.

How can Pittsburgh fund the schools students deserve?
Pittsburgh is caught in a fiscal paradox: on the one hand, parents are told that we cannot afford smaller class sizes, tutoring programs, art classes, and the other school programs we see as essential. We are told these things cost too much and that we don’t have the money to pay for them. On the other hand, we are told that PPS spends “too much” per student. The district’s per-pupil cost is roughly $20,500, significantly more than its peer districts around the state. So are we spending too little or too much?

The problem is, we are not actually spending all that $20,500 on each student. A great deal of that “per pupil” cost does not go towards educational costs at all, but rather to debt service, charter school tuition, and other expenditures. Of course we must continue to look for savings wherever possible, but there really is no more “fat” to cut without seriously harming students. How can we move beyond the question, “where do we cut the budget?” If that is our only question, then then only answer is more budget austerity, with school closures, increasing class sizes, and program cuts.

Can we help each other ask instead, “how can we fund the schools our students deserve?” This question expands our way of thinking, re-frames the problem, and helps us approach public education as a community committed to finding the resources our students need to succeed in school and in life.

  • Yinzercation helped to write the Great Public Schools Pittsburgh community-based plan with ideas to address this question. Check it out and let us know what you think.
  • Several people who have been active in education justice are serving on Mayor Bill Peduto’s new Task Force on Public Education to help think about larger community solutions for PPS.

[i] PA Budget and Policy Center, “Classroom Funding Changes,” 6-30-13

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