Adequate public schools: how much do they cost?

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania’s lowest spending school districts spend as little as $8,000 per student, while per pupil expenditures in several of the more affluent districts in the state exceed $16,000.

In a state with such wide gaps in spending per pupil, do students in the low-spending districts get what they need educationally? Just how much should Pennsylvania school systems spend to ensure that their students can achieve the standards for proficiency that have been set by the state?

A number of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania advocacy organizations are raising these questions and suggesting that it is time for the state to answer them by conducting what they call a "costing-out” or “adequacy” study. Such a study would first aim to determine what supports need to be in place in order for schools to enable their students to meet the state’s learning standards, and then would calculate the school funding level needed to provide those necessary supports and resources to schools.

The idea of costing out is not a new one, according to its proponents, which include Good Schools Pennsylvania, the Education Law Center, and the Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). They report that costing out studies have been conducted or are underway in 38 states to help align funding levels with the education standards and goals in the state.

While Pennsylvania is not yet one of those states, the State Board of Education here has appointed a panel to explore the idea. In addition, a resolution has been proposed in the legislature that would direct a statewide study looking at what resources are demanded by the state’s academic standards, including needs resulting from factors such as poverty, limited English proficiency, and disabilities.

According to EPLC president Ron Cowell, a costing-out study is a “logical next step” for state policymakers who have established academic standards and proficiency expectations for students.

For more information about work towards a costing-out study, contact Good Schools Pennsylvania at or 866-720-4086.