Schools' Reserves Raise Ire, But Advocates Defend Savings

Aug 8, 2014

Not everyone thinks schools in Pennsylvania are hurting for money.

For years, Republican lawmakers and officials have insisted that school districts have more money than they're letting on — in the form of rainy day funds. According to the state Department of Education, school districts reported having $4.27 billion leftover in their fund balances as of the 2012-13 fiscal year.

"In a three-year period ... including the 2012-13 year, the fund balances have increased by $718 million, almost three-quarters of a billion dollars, in a period everyone's saying that the governor cut school funding," Sen. Scott Wagner (R-York) said earlier this month.

He is among lawmakers who have called on school districts to stop building up their financial cushion.

Education advocates bridle at the charge that schools are hoarding money unnecessarily. They point to general fiscal uncertainty, rising pension costs and the years-long delays in state payments for school construction projects.

But Joe Bard, head of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, said if some districts are able to set aside oodles of funding while others teeter toward deficits, it points to a larger problem with the way the state divvies up funding.

"To think otherwise would mean that all of these school boards are just hanging onto money for no particular reason," Bard said.

A state commission to study education funding convened for the first time last month. Its recommendations for driving out funding to school districts are due to the legislature next summer.