Unpacking Pennsylvania’s Education Funding and Teacher Shortage Scenario

In the forthcoming session in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s lawmakers are gearing up to address key issues in the state’s education system and budget. A fresh perspective has emerged with the release of a new report from the Commonwealth Foundation, challenging prevailing notions of “funding cuts and teacher shortage myths.”

The report from the Commonwealth Foundation delves into data that sheds light on increased spending and hiring trends, juxtaposed with declining enrollment figures. This intriguing dynamic suggests the potential for more streamlined spending options, including reforms to the pension system.

Pennsylvania finds itself among the highest-spending states in the nation when it comes to education. However, critics argue that the reliance on local property tax contributions, which constitute around two-thirds of education spending, highlights the need for increased direct state support to meet the constitutional requirements.

The most recent state budget for the 2023-2024 period has allocated $7.8 billion for basic education funding, reflecting a significant 10% surge from the preceding year. Over the past decade, state support has soared by an impressive 54%, reaching a historic high of $15 billion this year.

In terms of funding per student, Pennsylvania stands out as the seventh-highest in the nation, with each student receiving nearly $22,000 – surpassing the national average by over $5,500.

Critics of the current education funding landscape emphasize that the issue isn’t a lack of financial resources, but rather how these resources are distributed. The Commonwealth Foundation underscores the importance of funding following the child, rather than the institution, advocating for a more student-centric approach. They also highlight the need for continued progress in pension reform, with the goal of benefiting both teachers and taxpayers.

The foundation’s report draws from comprehensive data derived from Pennsylvania’s Department of Education and Treasury Account Bureau, in conjunction with reputable sources such as the National Education Association and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Interestingly, despite a decrease in student enrollment, the foundation reveals a simultaneous increase in the number of teachers, administrators, support staff, and significantly larger reserve funds. Since 2020, public school enrollment has seen a decline of 7.7%, while the number of employees has risen by 8%, leading to almost 40% growth among administrators.

Addressing the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers, the report proposes that pension reform could potentially alleviate some of these hurdles. The average public school teacher in Pennsylvania earns close to $75,000 annually, ranking 12th highest in the nation. Notably, school districts allocate an average of $20,000 per teacher for pension contributions, contributing to the resolution of unfunded liabilities. The report postulates that transitioning from the current pension system to a defined contribution retirement system could result in public schools being able to offer teachers an average salary of $95,000 under existing spending levels.

It’s worth highlighting that significant taxpayer resources are accumulating, with over $5.96 billion in general reserve funds and an additional $2.9 billion – encompassing charter schools and other public institutions – in untapped federal pandemic aid still within state coffers.

The Learning Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to bolstering the education system, conducted a comprehensive review of teacher workforce reports and state agency documents for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. According to their findings, Pennsylvania does not publicly disclose statewide data on vacant teacher positions. However, they did report over 13,000 educators teaching subjects or grades for which they lacked full certification. Among them, 2,086 held only emergency certifications.

The state highlights a concerning trend: the influx of new educators into the profession is dwindling, while the rate of departures continues to escalate. This alarming pattern is leading to staffing shortages, disproportionately affecting schools catering to low-income students and students of color.

As a potential remedy, the report emphasizes the urgency of preparing thousands of new teachers, educators in other crucial roles, and hundreds of fresh principals by August 2025 to guide the educational paths of Pennsylvania’s students.

Notably, earlier this year, Pennsylvania’s school funding system faced a declaration of unconstitutionality for failing to adequately fund districts with limited resources. Recent testimony before the House Education Committee echoed the sentiment, with teachers and administrators advocating for the $100 million allocation earmarked for LevelUp – a program aimed at promoting equity and parity across schools.

As the upcoming legislative session approaches, Pennsylvania’s policymakers are poised to grapple with these complex education and budgetary issues, incorporating insights from the Commonwealth Foundation’s report and other reputable sources. The endeavor to optimize educational spending while addressing teacher shortages will likely remain at the forefront of discussions


Ann Marie Moore obituary 1944-2023

Ann is a lifelong member of St. John Lutheran Church in Fairfield, and a member and past president of AORN (Association of periOperative Registered Nurses).

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