Education Funding In Pennsylvania: Myth Versus Fact

There have been two major myths that have been perpetuated in the past several months. Below are the myths, and the real facts.

Myth: A billion dollars in education funding was cut by Republicans

Legislative education experts and policy experts all agree that the so-called education cuts under Governor Tom Corbett were a direct result of the loss of federal stimulus dollars under ARRA, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. And, at the time of the distribution of the stimulus funds, then Governor Ed Rendell asked the schools to not incorporate the funds into operating budgets, but instead use them on one-time projects. However, at the same time, he reduced state education spending, almost necessitating the one-time funds be used in ways that were irresponsible.

But framing the loss of the ARRA money as cuts in education funding became a political gold mine for the state’s largest teachers union, PSEA, and for candidate Tom Wolf.

Simply put, Pennsylvania’s spending on education, including in-classroom support, did not decrease by $1 billion. According to normalized data by, Pennsylvania’s instructional spending increased dramatically in both 2010 and 2011. Myth busted. 

When factoring for inflation, Pennsylvania has increased spending for education by 5.4% since 2008. 33 states have actually had a negative percentage change in the same statistical category, further solidifying Pennsylvania’s place atop total education spending.

Myth: Pennsylvania is 49th in Education Spending

Compared with other states, Pennsylvania never lost its place in terms of per pupil spending, we actually gained some ground. The fact is that we are now in the top ten in the nation in per pupil spending. False statements about Pennsylvania being 49th are at best dishonest.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in just state spending, Pennsylvania ranks 27th, in local education spending we rank 7th, and with the two totals combined we rank 10th. This trend is nothing new. In fact, by an analysis by the Commonwealth Foundation, it was found that Pennsylvania has never exceeded state spending on education by more than 45% of the overall spend amount when local is combined. Do state tax dollars and local tax dollars spend any differently? Absolutely not.

This roots back to local control; something Pennsylvanian’s have historically preserved as evidenced by the 500 individual school districts in our Commonwealth. Most other states organize their schools by county or larger geographical regions, therefore consolidating administration and normalizing curriculum.

But this begs the question: How much more can we give, but more importantly, what are our kids getting for the investment?

The recent trend hasn’t been promising. A 2014 nationwide study by the Cato Institute shows an inverse proportion in dollars invested to SAT scores over the past 40 years. Pennsylvania fits in with the national trend. (See: - /PA)

It’s important to note that the study’s author, Andrew J. Coulson, adjusted scores for variation in student participation rates and demographic factors known to be associated with those scores

The study’s conclusion:

This echoes the picture of stagnating achievement among American 17-year-olds painted by the Long Term Trends portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a series of tests administered to a nationally representative sample of students since 1970. That disappointing record comes despite a more-than-doubling in inflation-adjusted per pupil public school spending over the same period (the average state spending increase was 120 percent). Consistent with those patterns, there has been essentially no correlation between what states have spent on education and their measured academic outcomes. In other words, America’s educational productivity appears to have collapsed, at least as measured by the NAEP and the SAT.

That is remarkably unusual. In virtually every other field, productivity has risen over this period thanks to the adoption of countless technological advances—advances that, in many cases, would seem ideally suited to facilitating learning. But yet, surrounded by this torrent of progress, education has remained anchored to the riverbed, watching the rest of the world rush past it.