September 14, 2016

Steinberg and Quinn study examines school funding in Pennsylvania

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A new paper by Penn GSE’s Matthew Steinberg and Rand Quinn examines Pennsylvania’s attempt from 2008 to 2011 to reduce spending inequities between school districts, and what the results of that effort suggest about the state’s new funding formula.

Quinn and Steinberg
Steinberg and Quinn found that while 90 percent of school districts received additional aid under the policy of Act 61, the spending disparities between rich and poor districts remained largely unchanged. The law also failed to significantly increase the number of districts that had an adequate level of funding, as defined by the state.

“Our paper points to the reality that the modest per-pupil aid that was provided to shortfall districts via [the law] was simply insufficient to make meaningful changes to the spending and educational circumstances of what are disadvantaged, largely minority-serving school districts,” Steinberg told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The paper, co-written with Georgia State’s Daniel Kreisman and Penn GSE doctoral student J. Cameron Anglum, “Did Pennsylvania’s Statewide School Finance Reform Increase Education Spending or Provide Tax Relief?” was published this month in the National Tax Journal.

Steinberg and Quinn also found that some districts that received the most money — some of the state’s largest districts, with the highest property tax burdens — on average, used that money for property tax relief instead of increasing classroom spending. After Act 61 took effect, school district property tax effort declined statewide by 12 percent.

“How districts spend money matters,” Quinn told Penn GSE. “We should recognize that increases in state aid matter only to the extent that districts spend that money well and that it leads to improved student outcomes.”