Challenging Financial Conditions Getting Worse for School Districts Statewide
Challenging situations are getting worse in schools statewide according to an update to the annual Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) budget survey. School districts overwhelmingly implemented last spring's projected budget cuts, staff reductions, and tax hikes in their final spending plans for fiscal year 2014-15. Ninety-nine percent of respondents project more of the same or worsening fiscal conditions in 2015-16.
The June PASA-PASBO report identified significant externally imposed costs that would present challenges for districts even if state funding were adequate, equitable and predictable. With an increase in pension obligations of $562 million from the prior year, the school pension crisis topped the list with 100 percent of spring survey respondents anticipating increased pension costs for the 2014-15 school year. In the fall update, districts were asked to report on: a) increases in each of the following areas in the last five fiscal years (since 2010-11); and b) the specific rate of increase, if any, over the last year (2013-14 to 2014-15).
HEALTH CARE - 93 percent of respondent districts said they faced increased health care expenses over the last five years, while 81 percent reported higher costs from 2013-14 to the 2014-15.
SPECIAL EDUCATION - 91 percent of respondent districts reported increased special education costs since 2010-11, and 78 percent reported increased special education expenditures in 2014-15. Even with an additional $20 million (the first increase in six years), mandated costs continued to rise at the district level.
CHARTER PAYMENTS - 85 percent of respondent districts reported increased payments to one or more of 162 &amp;ldquo;brick-and-mortar&amp;rdquo; charter schools and 14 cyber charters over the last five years. For the 2014-15 fiscal year, 56 percent of respondent districts reported increased payments to charter schools. A key factor in the rising costs is the loss of state charter school reimbursement funds.
The following data illustrates the shifting burden within school finance:
TAX INCREASES - There has been a steady rise in the frequency of tax increases since 2012-13.
PROGRAMS -- Nearly three quarters (74 percent) of districts reported at least one academic program cut or reduction since 2010-11 and nearly 40 percent responded that cuts were made in 2014-15.
The most common cut among high-poverty districts was summer programming. At least 10 percent of high-poverty districts reported that cuts were made to field trips, foreign languages, visual arts, business education, music/theatre and prekindergarten. Additional cuts were reported in physical education, career and technical education, dual enrollment, Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate, special education, kindergarten and programs for under-credited/over-age students.
CLASS SIZE -- Districts have made substantial increases in class sizes in response to budgetary pressures. A majority of respondents reported at least one round of class size increases since 2010-11. Approximately one third of responding districts (more than 100) reported an increase in class size at one or more grade span in 2014-15.
EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES &amp;ndash; More than half of respondent districts (53 percent) reported cuts or reductions to at least one are of extra-curricular activities since 2010-11. Nearly one quarter (22 percent) of high-poverty school districts cut summer or extended day programs this fiscal year.
The report goes further to discuss the scale of cuts in terms of education jobs lost, the loss of thousands of classroom teachers in the highest poverty districts, positions outsourced.
PURCHASED SERVICES - Nearly half of respondent districts (46 percent) reported delaying or cancelling at least one major purchase or service during fiscal year 2014-15. More than one quarter of districts (27 percent) reported delaying or cancelling a technology purchase and 24 percent reported delayed or cancelled purchases of textbooks or curriculum materials.
TRANSPORTATION - More than one third of respondent districts (37 percent) reported changes to transportation services, including cancelling and/or combining routes, shrinking bus fleets, and reducing or eliminating after-school and activity bus services.
''The current PASA-PASBO report highlights the critical need for a fair education funding formula. Our members have been expressing concerns about cuts in programs and people, which directly affect the students in a negative way. The low hanging fruit has been picked clean and we need the State to take action on fixing the way we fund education in order to protect our most precious resource - our children.''
- Dr. Paul M. Healey, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals
''The results of this well conducted survey serve to confirm the serious impact of funding cuts on poor, rural schools. Continued failure by the state to provide fair and adequate funding will be disastrous to many thousands of rural students.''
- Joseph Bard, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools