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Education spending trends deliver mixed results

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(The Center Square) – New analysis of prepandemic education spending trends and their correlating academic growth offers a mixed bag of results in Pennsylvania.

The Reason Foundation published a report Thursday that compares boosted investment into public schools by federal, state and local governments – i.e., taxpayers – between 2002 and 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic.

After adjusting for inflation, education revenue – two-thirds of which comes from local taxes – climbed 49.1% during the two decades, the sixth highest in the nation. Employee benefit spending ballooned by 173.6%, ranking third, while costs for instruction and support services grew roughly 34%, ranking ninth and 18th, respectively.

During the same time, reading and math test scores for fourth and eighth graders had single-digit percentage growth, falling in the middle of the pack nationally. Enrollment and teacher salaries declined slightly, too.

The foundation’s results highlight a stark gap between growing taxpayer investment and lagging K-12 academic achievement. It’s a perennial problem plaguing state policymakers’ attempt to equalize funding across 500 districts and boost student test scores.

The Commonwealth Court recently deemed the state’s current funding formula unconstitutional, compounding the issue. A lawmaker-stacked commission formed to tackle the issue approved a plan that calls for at least $200 million in new spending each year.

Gov. Josh Shapiro supports the new plan, but does not want to commit to a specific spending number given the fluctuation in economic conditions that impact the state budget – like a pandemic.