Steinberg and Quinn Say the School District of Philadelphia is Doing More With Less

Archive Notice: The following article was published before Jan 2015.


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November 20, 2013 – A Penn GSE report was released today as part of a Philadelphia City Council Committee on Education hearing on education funding. The report, by professors Matthew Steinberg and Rand Quinn, found that the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) does more, per pupil, with its current resources than its closest counterparts in terms of student poverty and achievement. This evidence suggests that the SDP, rather than a story of failure, is a story of possibility.

Compared to its nearest peers in terms of poverty and achievement, the SDP spent, on average, approximately $2,000 less per pupil than its nearest peers—the 5 percent of districts in the state serving the largest percentage of poor students and the 5 percent of districts reporting the lowest state achievement scores. Despite the difference in spending, Philadelphia public school students perform above many of these districts on state achievement tests.

The Penn GSE researchers also investigated the adequacy gap, which is a measure of the extent to which actual spending falls below the level necessary to provide adequate educational services to all students in a district. In 2006, the state commissioned a study to determine an adequate level of per-pupil spending necessary for all students to meet the state’s academic standards. The Penn GSE researchers based their adequacy calculations on the methodology used in the study and, after accounting for inflation, estimated the adequacy gap for all districts in the state using the most recent data possible, the 2009-10 year.

As calculated, Philadelphia required $16,895 in per-pupil funding to meet adequacy targets, but spent only 68% of that amount at $11,471 per-pupil—an adequacy gap four times the size of the average gap for the other 24 poorest districts in PA. In the years since the 2009-10 school year, the district has lost federal stimulus funds, and the fair funding formula put in place under the Rendell administration, which accounted for student and district characteristics, has since been revoked under the Corbett administration. While data is unavailable to estimate the magnitude of the adequacy gap since 2009-10, these changes in funding have likely further adversely affected Philadelphia’s students.  

These findings represent the first in a series of examinations of Philadelphia education funding from Penn GSE’s Steinberg and Quinn. All estimates are based on the 2009-10 school year using data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data and data on district achievement from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The presentation and report can be found here: https://www.gse.upenn.edu/news/faculty/faculty-experts-education-spending-pennsylvania-and-philadelphia.