Philadelphia Created Its Own Fiscal Crisis

Published October 12, 2013

Philadelphia School District finances are a nightmare, and there’s no shortage of horror stories about the layoffs. What isn’t included in those stories is how the hiring practices of recent years exacerbated today’s cuts.

Philadelphia, like many other large districts in Pennsylvania, spent 2006 to 2011 hiring teachers and other education employees at a remarkable clip, despite falling enrollment. Philadelphia had almost 10 percent fewer students in 2011 than in 2006, but almost 4 percent more teachers. This was typical of the state: A 5 percent drop in enrollment accompanied a 6.2 percent increase in teachers. Pittsburgh was the only school district of the state’s 20 largest that responded to enrollment losses with a corresponding reduction of staff.

And although Philadelphia’s per-pupil spending of $11,637 significantly trailed the state average, it grew almost 30 percent during this five-year period, exceeding the average state growth by almost 8 percentage points.

Few school districts learned before and during the recession that small cuts early can prevent huge cuts later. The Philadelphia School District is not a victim of circumstances, but of its own policies.

Reprinted from the Education Intelligence Agency with permission. Image by George Smyth.