Pennsylvania Public Schools: The Fiscal Landscape A Descriptive Analysis 2008-2013

Open Access
Perrin, Jason Christom
Graduate Program:
Educational Leadership
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 03, 2015
Committee Members:
  • William Hartman, Dissertation Advisor
  • William Hartman, Committee Chair
  • Edward J Fuller, Committee Member
  • Ronald Robert Musoleno, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Pennsylvania Public School Finance
  • Revenues
  • Expenditures
  • Fund Balance
  • Average District Wealth
This research study examined public school district responses in Pennsylvania, through analysis of fiscal patterns, given decreased revenues and increased mandatory expenditures from 2008-2013. This descriptive quantitative study examined both revenues and expenditures for the aggregate group of Pennsylvania school districts and further explores fiscal patterns by average wealth through the use of deciles. The study was organized around the following four research questions: 1. How did school district revenues change? 2. How did school district expenditures change? 3. Did revenues and expenditure patterns vary by wealth? 4. What were the major legislative events in education and fiscal factors that occurred during this time period and how did they impact the fiscal pattern for revenues and expenditures? The methodology used was primarily quantitative incorporating descriptive statistics specific to revenue and expenditure data from 2008-2013. Fiscal data was collected from the Pennsylvania Department of Education web site for all five hundred public school districts in the state. Secondary sources were also utilized to determine the impact of policy, legislative actions, and overall economic variables on fiscal elements specific to the public school finance landscape during the period of study. Analysis of key fiscal elements and secondary information was completed for all public school districts and further examined by average district wealth through decile information. This study found that between 2008-2013, fiscal responses and patterns changed due to revenue and expenditure variables for the aggregate group of Pennsylvania districts and differed for these districts based on average wealth. Key findings of this study included: 1. State policy decisions and legislative actions, specifically the reduction of state funding and lack of full restoration that coincided with the infusion and elimination of federal ARRA funding, had adverse effects on total school district revenues, especially 2011-12. 2. The recession of 2007-2009, along with limitations on local real estate tax increases imposed by Act 1 of 2006, restricted the ability for school districts to raise local revenue in order to counterbalance state revenue decreases, especially in 2011-12 when the Act 1 base index reached a five year low of 1.4%. 3. Increased benefit expenditures, due primarily to increased mandatory payments to PSERS, constrained the ability for school districts to meet overall obligations and forced challenging decisions, especially from 2011-13, when employer contribution rates increased from 5.54% to 12.36%. 4. State policy decisions and legislative actions, with regards to the interaction of state and federal revenues, adversely affected poorer districts to a greater degree than wealthy districts, counter to the intent of how those revenues were designed to be allocated. 5. The decrease of total revenue and increase of mandatory expenditures, specific to benefits, adversely affected poorer districts to a greater degree than wealthy districts, in the ability to meet rising costs associated with staff, more often forcing decisions fiscally necessary, but not educationally sound. 6. With mandatory expenditures projected to rise, as employer contribution rates to PSERS continues to rise, school districts will face further challenges in the future in an Act 1 environment, unless future policy and legislative actions provide relief in the form of increased state funding, equitable allocation and overall pension reform. Findings assert that long-range fiscal planning is paramount when addressing school district fiscal needs and that managing costs such as collective bargaining agreements and competing in a choice environment, given Charter School Costs, are important in managing the balance between revenues and expenditures. Future research aligned to further exploration of legislative impacts on school funding along with possible reform efforts specific to the state pension system and revenue generated through local real estate taxes will emerge in the coming years as key focus areas for understanding and practice.