The financial situation at the Philadelphia School District is a nightmare, and there’s no shortage of horror stories about the layoffs of librarians, school counselors and classroom teachers. What isn’t a part of those stories is how the hiring practices of recent years exacerbated the cuts being made now.
Philadelphia, like many other large districts in Pennsylvania, spent the years 2006 to 2011 hiring teachers and other education employees at a remarkable clip, despite falling K-12 enrollment. Philadelphia had almost 10 percent fewer students in 2011 than in 2006, but it had almost 4 percent more teachers. This was typical of the state in general. A five percent drop in enrollment was met with a 6.2 percent increase in teachers. Indeed, Pittsburgh was the only school district of the state’s 20 largest that responded to enrollment losses with a corresponding reduction of staff.
And while Philadelphia’s per-pupil spending of $11,637 still trailed the state average by a significant margin, that figure grew almost 30 percent during this five-year period, exceeding the state average in spending growth by almost 8 percentage points.
The lesson few school districts learned prior to and during the recession was that small cuts early can prevent huge cuts later. The Philadelphia School District is not a victim of circumstances, but of its own policies.