(The Center Square) – As Pennsylvania’s legislators prepare to return to Harrisburg to sort out the state’s education system and budget, a new report challenges what they call “funding cuts and teacher shortage myths.”
A recently released report by the Commonwealth Foundation provides data showing increased spending and hiring alongside dropping enrollment numbers – suggesting more efficient spending options, including pension system reforms.
According to the report, Pennsylvania ranks among the highest-spending states in the nation. Critics argue that local property tax contributions, which comprise roughly two-thirds of education spending, supplement direct state support they say should increase to meet constitutional demands.
The enacted 2023-2024 state budget appropriates $7.8 billion for basic education funding – a 10% increase over the previous year – and state support is up 54% over the last decade, reaching an all-time high of $15 billion this year.
These numbers rank the state as the seventh highest in the nation in funding per student, which is nearly $22,000 – more than $5,500 above the average.
“The issue isn’t a lack of money, but how it is distributed,” the foundation said in a press release provided to The Center Square. “State lawmakers should work to ensure that funding follows the child, not the building, and continue progress on pension reform that benefits both teachers and taxpayers.”
Data compiled from the state’s Department of Education and Treasury Account Bureau in conjunction with the National Education Association and the U.S. Census Bureau was used in the report.
State and local taxpayer funding is “constantly increasing,” the foundation says. While there are fewer students, there are also more teachers, administrators, support staff, and significantly larger reserve funds.
Since 2020, public school enrollment has dropped 7.7% while the number of employees rose by 8%, representing a nearly 40% growth among administrators.
The foundation suggests hiring challenges could be alleviated with pension reform.
The average public school teacher earns a salary of nearly $75,000, ranking them 12th highest in the nation. School districts spend an average of $20,000 per teacher in pension contributions to pay off unfunded liabilities. If the state converted the current pension system to a defined contribution retirement system, public schools could provide teachers with an average salary of $95,000 at current spending levels.
Taxpayer resources are being stockpiled, the foundation adds, with over $5.96 billion in general reserve funds and another $2.9 billion – which includes charter schools and other public schools – in unspent federal pandemic aid still sitting in the treasury.
The Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with policymakers and other groups to strengthen the education system, published a report after reviewing teacher workforce reports and state agency documents for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
It states that Pennsylvania does not publish statewide data on unfilled teacher positions. However, they did report having just over 13,000 educators teaching a subject or grade for which they were not fully certified. Of those, 2,086 were not fully certified and held an emergency certification.
The state says the overall number of new educators entering the profession is declining and the rate of those leaving continues to accelerate – creating staffing shortages that are felt most acutely by schools serving the highest proportions of low-income students and students of color.
As a result, by August 2025, they say thousands of new teachers and educators in other critical roles, and hundreds of new principals will need to be trained and ready to guide students’ educational futures.
Earlier this year, the state’s school funding system was declared unconstitutional by failing to adequately fund low-wealth districts.
Teachers and administrators representing them recently told the House Education Committee they cannot fund programs, perform building maintenance, or address workforce shortages without the $100 million earmarked for LevelUp – a program designed to level the playing field for them.