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Why is the School District’s spending per student declining?

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Philadelphia public school classrooms received less money last year than in 2008, according to a study released this week by consulting group Education Resource Systems.

This study echoes what representatives from the District have been saying in community budget meetings and City Council hearings as they lobby for a funding increase of $300 million in recurring revenue.

"The main theme … is our continued fixed-cost increases," said District Chief Financial Officer Matt Stanksi. That, he said, is "why we keep coming back, year after year, asking for money."

ERS looked at per-pupil spending in the District between 2011 and 2014, as well as what factors drove the decline. That involved comparing revenue for those years to changes in fixed costs, or costs the District has to pay by law. The report isolated three main fixed costs that have widened the gap created by a decrease in state funding over the last four years: pensions, health care and charter school payments.

Next year, the District’s bills will rise by $90.7 million, with 97 percent of that increase attributed to fixed costs and debt service.

What does that mean? Those four obligations eat up increasingly large portions of the School District’s budget, leaving less and less to go to instructional costs such as teacher salaries and supplies.

To show how this happens, the report looked at how each expense increased over time and how the District has had to cut back in other areas to compensate.


Facing a looming pension crisis, Pennsylvania lawmakers have raised the amount that employers must pay into PSERS, or teachers’ pensions, from 5.6 percent in 2011 to 16.9 percent in 2014. That number will top out at nearly 30 percent in 2017.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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