Pew: Funding Per Philadelphia Student Trails Other Big U.S. Cities

State formulas do not guarantee more aid for urban districts

Pew: Funding Per Philadelphia Student Trails Other Big U.S. Cities

PHILADELPHIA—A new analysis of the Philadelphia school district’s finances by The Pew Charitable Trusts finds that the district’s per-student funding was below that of seven of 10 big city districts in the United States for the 2013–14 school year. 

The Pew report, A School Funding Formula for Philadelphia: Lessons From Urban Districts Across the United States, also examines the impact of state funding formulas on big city districts. It concludes that a state formula based on district needs, demographics, and ability to pay—a methodology used in most states but not in Pennsylvania—does not necessarily provide a substantially higher level of aid for urban districts. Equally important is the overall amount of state spending on education. 

The School District of Philadelphia’s $12,570 per-pupil operational revenue was less than that of Boston, Milwaukee, Cleveland, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit but more than the remaining three districts used for comparison—Shelby County (Memphis), Hillsborough County (Tampa, Florida), and Dallas. Operational revenue—as opposed to total revenue—was defined as money spent on the daily operations of a district's K-12 programs, excluding expenditures such as capital programs and debt service. The comparison districts were chosen for their overall similarity to Philadelphia. 

“Philadelphia’s per-student operational revenue is below the average of the 10 school districts we examined,” said Larry Eichel, director of Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative. “Although more money does not guarantee better student outcomes, how the funding formula and charter financing issues are resolved in Pennsylvania will go a long way toward determining how the School District of Philadelphia fares in the years ahead.” 

Among the other key findings: 

  • Philadelphia relied more heavily on state aid and less on local funding than most of the 10 other urban districts. In the 2013–14 school year, Philadelphia received 45.9 percent of its operational revenue from the state, slightly above the 10-district average, and 42.3 percent from local sources, slightly below the average. However, for 2014–15, Mayor Michael Nutter has said Philadelphia’s share of local funding is expected to rise to about 47 percent, a result of additional dollars committed from an existing sales tax and a new cigarette tax.
  • Pennsylvania’s current charter school funding system places a greater financial burden on the commonwealth’s districts than systems in Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. The burden in the other five states—Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Tennessee—is similar to Pennsylvania.
  • When compared with selected districts in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia’s total per-pupil revenue was less than Pittsburgh’s but more than Erie’s and Reading’s. Philadelphia’s revenue was also lower than the three suburban districts studied but higher than the three rural districts. 

The study was conducted by the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan organization specializing in the analysis of education trends. 

For more information and to download the complete report, visit

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew’s Philadelphia research initiative provides timely, impartial research and analysis on key issues facing Philadelphia for the benefit of the city’s citizens and leaders. Learn more at