(Shutterstock/Lopolo) Classroom
(Shutterstock/Lopolo)

From pandemic-induced burnout and learning challenges, to rising charter school tuition payments, a new report breaks down the challenges facing Pennsylvania public schools.

Staffing shortages, budget issues, and student mental health are the biggest challenges facing Pennsylvania public schools, according to a recent report.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association’s annual State of Education report outlined these challenges in detail, based on input from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and survey results from schools in nearly all of the state’s approximately 500 school districts.

Staffing Shortages

Of the many challenges the pandemic has presented for school districts, staffing shortages was the most commonly cited issue in the report. Nearly every school district surveyed (99.6%) reported a shortage of substitute teachers, while 80% of districts reported shortages in instructional aides and school bus drivers.

A big driver of these shortages is the toll the pandemic has taken on teachers and staff, with 85% percent of districts reporting that staff is “burned out.”

Student Mental Health

The reduction in face-to-face learning since the onset of the pandemic has created numerous instructional challenges, most notably the social and emotional issues students have experienced, which has impacted their ability to learn.

Nearly 86% of districts report navigating these social and emotional issues as their biggest challenge. To address this student mental health challenge, many districts have worked to expand their social and emotional services, by either partnering with local mental health agencies, contracting with local providers, or sharing services with other districts.

Budget Issues

For a third consecutive year, school districts identified mandatory charter tuition payments as their greatest budget pressure. Charter school tuition payments in the state are estimated to exceed $3B dollars this school year.

In the last decade the percentage of school district spending on charter school tuition in Pennsylvania has more than doubled, from 3.3% in 2009-10 to 6.7% in 2019-2020. Because the payments are mandatory and consistently increasing, districts are left with few options to address the costs. This financial burden forces many districts to raise local property taxes, make cuts to programs or services, postpone building maintenance, or dip into available fund balance.

Inadequate state funding was another big concern for school districts. Pennsylvania public schools receive 37.9% of their annual funding from the state, which ranks 45th nationally ahead of only Connecticut, South Dakota, Texas, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. The national average is 46.7%.