School Choice & Charters

Philadelphia’s Per-Pupil Revenue Lags Other Big-City Districts, Report Says

By Denisa R. Superville — January 16, 2015 4 min read
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An analysis of school funding in 11 big-city districts that share financial and demographic similarities shows that the financially-strapped Philadelphia school district receives less funding per-pupil than seven of its counterparts.

The report, “A School Funding Formula for Philadelphia,” which was based on an analysis by the Education Commission of the States and commissioned by the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that Philadelphia’s operating costs per-pupil —$12,570 in the 2013-14 school year—was below the average for the other districts. Philadelphia fell behind Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and New York City.

In addition to the cities above, Shelby County in Memphis, Tenn.; Hillsborough County in Tampa, Fla.; and Dallas were also included in the analysis. Per-pupil revenues in those districts were lower than Philadelphia’s.

On average, Philadelphia also relied more heavily on state revenues than on local sources during the 2013-14 school year, with nearly 46 percent of the district’s operating revenues coming from the state that year. Boston relied most heavily on local funding, which made up about 67.2 percent of that city’s schools’ budget, according to the report. In Detroit, that number was as low as 20 percent.

The other 10 cities received money through their state’s primary funding formula, with New York City and Chicago designated with separate streams in their respective state budgets. The 10 cities also received additional funds for special education and English-language learners. Nine got extra money for at-risk and low-income students.

But while a funding formula would give Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania districts “economic predictability and stability,” the Pew Charitable Trusts said in its report that it would not necessarily guarantee that Philadelphia’s per-pupil spending would surpass the other cities.

Pennsylvania is one of three states that does not use such a comprehensive school funding formula, though efforts are underway to develop one.

As a result state revenues to Pennsylvania’s districts vary widely. Generally, the urban and rural schools receive a higher percentage of their revenues from the state than their wealthier suburban counterparts. However, disparities persist and the impact on students varies depending on whether the districts are property-rich and income-rich and are able to levy significant local taxes.

While Philadelphia received a greater percentage of its revenues from the state than Pittsburgh, for example, the amount of state revenue per student was $2,075 more per-pupil in Pittsburgh than in Philadelphia. And though some suburban districts, such as Lower Merion, Council Rock and Radnor received less state funding per student that other districts in the state, Lower Merion spending per student was double that of Philadelphia and more than twice districts like Connellsville, Erie, and West Perry, according to the report.

The study found that as a result of Pennsylvania charter schools funding laws and policies, charter schools have a greater financial burden on Pennsylvania schools—and in particular Philadelphia’s—than they do in Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin. The impact was about the same in Florida, Tennessee, Illinois, Maryland and New York.

In the 2013-2014 school year, Philadelphia paid $8,417 per-pupil to charter schools for general education students and $22,307 per-pupil for special education students. In Pennsylvania, the local school districts are required to pay the charter schools a per-per pupil cost, based on the previous year’s spending. They also must provide transportation for all charter school students.

Interestingly, the report by the Pew Charitable Trusts was released the same day as another from the Philadelphia-based Public Citizens for Children and Youth that called for the Philadelphia School Reform Commission to deny all 40 pending applications to open charter schools in the city. The School Reform Commission, which governs the city’s schools, must decide on the applications by Feb. 21.

If all the charter school applications are approved, those schools could enroll 40,341 students, increasing the city’s charter school student population to 104,642. That would mean that 51 percent of the district’s student population would be public charter school students, according to the group’s report, “The Legal, Fiscal and Oversight Challenges of Granting New Charters in Philadelphia.

Such an enrollment would leave Philadelphia with the second highest charter school student enrollment in the country, after Los Angeles, according to the report. It could add $282 million in annual charter school payments to the district’s already tight budget and push charter school costs past the $1 billion mark, the report said.

Public Citizens for Children and Youth also argues that nearly half of the new application are from groups that are already running schools in the city. In those schools, more than half of the students are performing below grade level in reading or math, and the schools serve a lower percentage of the city’s English Language learners, Hispanic and low-income students.

Graphic source: The Pew Charitable Trusts

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.