Philly School Spending, Test Scores Show No Correlation

Despite claims by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT), more school spending does not translate to higher student performance.

The teachers union claims the state has been underfunding education and that more money would solve the school district’s problems.

The Philadelphia School District has been battling a $304 million budget shortfall all year. While the city and state scrambled to find extra money for the continually struggling school district — scraping together over $170 million in loans, grants and increased tax revenues — the PFT has refused to take any pay cuts or other work-rule concessions in negotiations on a contract that expired in August. The school district originally asked for $133 million in union concessions from the PFT and other district employee unions.

More and more state money has been going to the school district, however, and its college-bound students show little sign of improvement.

Even in the 2011-2012 school year, when President Barack Obama’s stimulus came to an end and federal money to the school district was cut, scores increased slightly. And from the 2009-2010 to the 2010-2011 school year — when the stimulus was in effect — the SAT average actually dropped even though the school district received the most basic education funding ever.

PFT likes to blame the education cuts on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, but basic education funding from the state increased when he took office. The state simply could not fill the hole left by the drying up of federal stimulus money.

Over the past 13 years (the period for which the Pennsylvania Department of Education has SAT data), average SAT scores have remained relatively flat while school spending has skyrocketed. Verbal and math scores have remained in the 400-450 range. The highest possible score on each component of the SAT is 800.


Andrew Coulson, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, conducted a study which found similar results nationwide.

“The average performance change nationwide has declined 3 percent in mathematical and verbal skills,” Coulson told “Moreover, there’s been no relationship, effectively, between spending and academic outcomes.”

Nationwide, and state-by-state, data shows despite more and more taxpayer money being pumped into public education, SAT scores remain at relatively the same level. Pennsylvania is no exception and the scores have even declined over the past 40 years.

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Not only did Coulson find no correlation between increases in education spending and SAT scores, but he also found that in states where education spending declined, there was not a noticeable decline in SAT scores.

“Their score trends seem entirely disconnected from their rising and falling levels of spending,” Coulson concluded.

But the PFT dialogue continues to be that Corbett has been hurting Philadelphia’s students with cuts to state education funding. While Media Trackers has previously shown the education cuts talking point to be false, the claim that student performance is harmed by the fluctuation of education spending is also false — on a citywide, statewide and nationwide basis.