Funding Pennsylvania Public Schools

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1 Funding Pennsylvania Public Schools TM

2 1 Introduction A recent study by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association determined that many citizens do not understand how Pennsylvania s public schools are funded, particularly the state and federal laws that govern the funding decisions made by school boards. The study found that 53% of Pennsylvania residents strongly or somewhat believe that public school funding is not fair. And though 61% of those surveyed strongly or somewhat agree that local public schools need more funding, a substantial portion of respondents also indicated dissatisfaction with school district spending. This school financing guide is designed to briefly and easily explain how public schools are funded, the need for school property taxes and the cost of operating school districts. The

3 goal is to give citizens a better understanding of how their local schools are paid for and on what that money is spent. How Public Schools Are Funded Pennsylvania public schools are funded primarily by real estate taxes* and state and federal funds. For the academic year, Pennsylvania s public schools received most of their revenue from local property taxes (45%). The remaining money came from state funds (35%), other local 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% 45% RE Tax 14% Other Local 35% sources (14%), federal funds (4%) and other miscellaneous revenue (1%). In the early 1970s, state support for public schools equaled 50% of school budgets. However, the reduction in state subsidy to now only one-third of school budgets has required *Words in bold are defined in the glossary. 4% 1% State Federal Other Misc. 2 school districts to raise property taxes to make up the difference. Pennsylvania school districts always had the authority to use a mix of local taxes to fund schools. By far, the primary local revenue source is property taxes. Property taxes accounted for 76% of total local school district revenue in and provided 45% of all revenues collected by school districts. Recently, the state legislature and the governor have tried to reduce the property tax burden on homeowners; however, the burden actually has increased. The legislature has repealed or limited the authority for school districts to levy non-real property taxes over the last 15 years. As these various taxes were repealed or limited, the result was an increase in property taxes to provide more local school funding. What Are Property Taxes? Property taxes are based on the value of all real property within

4 the borders of a school district. Property value is the total of the value of the land and the value of any buildings on the land. The County Board of Property Assessment and Appeals has the legal responsibility for determining the value of land for taxing purposes. Taxes are based on assessed value. In some cases, the assessed value is equal to the estimated market value, and in other cases, it is a portion of the estimated market value. In either case, a school district must use the official recorded assessed value of a property. While land may be listed as residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural or any number of other classes, all property values are combined, and the millage rate is applied uniformly to the total value of land within the school district boundaries. Property taxes in a school district increase for several specific reasons: a change in the base value of all property; a decrease in the actual collection of revenues; or an increased need for revenue. A change in the base or assessed value occurs when properties are added to the tax rolls as the result of new construction. Changes also occur when property is removed from the tax rolls. Additionally, property values decrease when a building is demolished for any reason or the use of the property is for a tax-exempt, charitable purpose such as schools, hospitals or churches. When property owners feel that the assessed value of the property is too high, they may appeal the assessed value to the County Board of Property Assessment and Appeal. When a property owner proves that the value recorded is higher than it should be, the County Board of Property Assessment and Appeal has the authority to decrease the value. The Cost of Operating a School District A school district uses its revenue to purchase a variety of goods and services that produce the educational programs for their students. In some cases, a district also provides a variety of services for nonpublic school students. Spending will vary between districts because each district is different. This uniqueness is defined by community preferences and student needs within the district. 3

5 Two different methods can be used to describe what a district purchases. One way is to review the specific areas of spending such as salaries, benefits, books and supplies. Another way is to examine the function spending of the district. By doing this, you can look at the district s spending in a summary and program structure. The functions defined by the school accounting system are instruction, support, noninstruction, facilities, debt and all other. Within each of the functions are a number of other categories that provide details of the types of services each district provides, depending upon the needs of the students. Based on a review of 459 of 501 school districts annual financial reports for the school year, more than 90% of all district spending is for instruction and support functions. Instruction costs are expenditures for educating all students. Within the costs are several specific educational programs, including regular education, special education, career-technical education, other education, adult education and support of community colleges. Regular education includes all classroom activity for kindergarten through grade 12. Special education includes costs associated with providing educational opportunities, other than regular classroom, for any child with special needs. Special education costs include both gifted and impaired students under the Pennsylvania School Accounting System. Career-technical education equals costs for both district career-technical instruction and tuition payments to area career-technical schools. Other education costs include the required educational services of homebound instruction, alternative education for disruptive students, summer school and driver education. Support costs are for activities and programs directly related to helping both the teacher and the student but are not for classroom activity. Support spending includes guidance, attendance, psychology services and other support services designed to assist students, such as speech and audiology services, pupil health services (school nurse) and school libraries. School districts also have expenditures for administrative costs. That spending includes superintendent, principals and 4

6 related central office support; legal costs; business office and tax collection activities. Buildings costs, such as utilities and cleaning services, as well as transportation costs, are part of administrative costs. The remaining school district spending would be for maintaining buildings, paying debt, buying and fixing buildings and purchasing and repairing equipment. Salaries typically represent the largest single item of expenditure in a school district. Teacher salaries are subject to collective bargaining at the school district level. Created by state legislation and court cases, salary schedules for professional staff are based on educational level and number of years of service of the individual. Also included in collective bargaining requirements are employee benefits. In many cases, when a district experiences an increase in student enrollment, it means the school district must hire more teachers or add classroom aides. However, when enrollment drops, the number of teachers employed by the district can be reduced only through arbitration and by showing evidence that enrollment has declined significantly. Sometimes, school districts reach a point where having fewer students means they have to change the education program. While local school boards may increase the number of teachers at will, reducing the number of teachers is subject to possible lawsuits. And, the Pennsylvania School Code prohibits reducing the number of teachers for purely financial reasons. Other instruction spending by school districts includes costs for substitutes, materials and supplies, as well as textbooks for classroom use. As mentioned earlier, a second way to look at school district spending is to review the specific areas of spending such as salaries and benefits, books and supplies. Spending by school districts can be examined by area (such as salaries) or by function (such as instruction or special education). Looking at only one source for spending can be misleading about the specific purpose or the anticipated benefit of such spending. A school district s main purpose is to provide public education. 5

7 This means that the district must provide for classes such as math, reading, physical education and social studies. All of the specific course requirements are established by the State Board of Education, although a school district can make additional locally determined requirements. Other sources of required spending come from federal and state laws. These are called mandates. Unfunded mandates are costs that must be paid by school districts because the federal and state laws do not include funding or provide inadequate funding to cover additional expenses, such as special education programs and cyber-charter schools. Also outside of the control of the district is the expense of lawsuits against not only the district itself, but against other districts that may result in requirements and spending for all school districts. For Further Information There are many resources available to further explain school funding in Pennsylvania. If you want additional information, you can start with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association Web site at psba.org/pride-and-promise, where you will find many outstanding resources to help you. If you have a specific question regarding school funding, you can us at Glossary Assessed value: The official valuation of property for the purpose of taxation. The value is determined by the County Board of Assessment Appeals and Review as a percent of the estimated market value. Collective bargaining: The legal requirement for a school district to negotiate a labor contract with the union(s) representing the district employees, such as teachers, support personnel and others. Estimated market value: The value of taxable real property within a school district as determined by the State Tax Equalization Board. Millage rate: The rate of tax levied on the assessed value of 6

8 real property. One mill equals $1 per $1,000 of assessed value. Non-real property taxes: Any tax levied, assessed or collected that is based on something other than the value of real estate. Includes taxes such as earned income tax, per capita tax and emergency and municipal services taxes (local services tax). Real estate taxes: Any tax levied on real property based on the value of the property. Real property: Land and buildings or other structures permanently fixed to the land. State funds or subsidy: Money provided to school districts by the state as determined by the state during the budget process. 7

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