Opinion: Investing in education is the keystone to Pennsylvania’s future

As debate continues to swirl around how – and how much – to pay for necessary investments in schooling in the commonwealth, there are clear paths forward.

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Some Pennsylvania lawmakers have expressed skepticism about the $5.1 billion education spending proposal from state House Democrats, doubting its potential to improve student outcomes. A paper from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education’s Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education that analyzes the proposal’s return on investment provides clear and compelling evidence that this proposal is a strategic investment that will yield substantial benefits for Pennsylvania students and the state.

Addressing Concerns with Evidence

Critics argue that increased funding does not necessarily lead to better student outcomes. This concern is understandable given the complexity of educational systems and the many factors influencing student success. However, there is evidence demonstrating that when schools are adequately funded, students are more likely to gain important skills for the labor market, to graduate from high school and to enroll in college. 

The court case driving the proposed school funding overhaul determined that hundreds of school districts across the commonwealth are not adequately funded, highlighting a great need for additional financial resources to improve schools and student outcomes. 

Our analysis combines the evidence on school funding and the need for increased school funding in Pennsylvania to show that targeted investments in education can produce measurable and significant improvements. For example, the proposed funding increase could create 18,000 new jobs in addition to significantly boosting high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

Economic and Educational Benefits

The economic benefits related to these improved outcomes are considerable. For example, for the proposed $660 million invested in the upcoming cohort of high school freshmen, Pennsylvania can expect a return of $1.3 billion. These benefits come from higher earning potential for graduates, increased tax revenues and reduced social costs associated with higher education attainment levels. In other words, for every additional dollar invested in the class of 2028, the state can expect to nearly double its return.

Investing in education is an investment in the state’s economic future. High school graduates earn significantly more over their lifetimes compared to non-graduates, and they are less likely to rely on public assistance programs. By increasing the graduation rate, the state can ensure a more skilled and competitive workforce, which is essential for attracting businesses and fostering economic growth.

Creating Jobs and Opportunities

The proposal’s impact on job creation is another compelling reason to support it. The education sector itself will benefit from the influx of funds, leading to the creation of jobs within schools and educational institutions. Additionally, the broader economy will benefit from the increased consumer spending and economic activity generated by these new jobs.

Education spending also has a multiplier effect. As students achieve higher levels of education, they become more employable and can contribute more effectively to the economy. This creates a virtuous cycle of economic growth and development, benefiting the entire state.

Enhancing Student Outcomes

Beyond economic metrics, the proposal is designed to enhance student outcomes directly. The increased funding will be used to improve educational resources, support teachers and implement evidence-based educational programs. These improvements are expected to lead to a 4.47% increase in graduation rates and a 4.54% rise in college enrollment rates.

Improved educational outcomes have far-reaching implications. Higher graduation and college enrollment rates are associated with better health outcomes, reduced crime rates and greater civic engagement. By investing in education, Pennsylvania is investing in a healthier, safer and more engaged society.

A Strategic Investment for the Future

The $5.1 billion education spending proposal represents a wise strategic investment in Pennsylvania’s future. Its benefits extend beyond immediate economic gains to include long-term improvements in educational outcomes and societal well-being. Our analysis demonstrates that the benefits outweigh the costs, making this proposal a prudent choice for the state.

The evidence is clear: Investing in education is not only the right thing to do for our students but also the smart thing to do for our economy and society. By embracing this proposal, Pennsylvania can pave the way for a brighter, more prosperous future for all its residents.

Brooks Bowden is the Director of the Center for Benefit–Cost Studies of Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education