Debate Over School Funding in Philadelphia

August 4, 2014

A school funding debate has emerged in Philadelphia as the city faces a $93 million funding gap for the school district's 2014-2015 budget. According to city officials, Philadelphia may be forced to fire 1,300 workers. Class sizes in the upcoming school year, says Philadelphia's Mayor Michael Nutter, could reach 40 students. The mayor has called for a $2 per pack cigarette tax in order to fill the gap.

At Watchdog.org, reporter Mary Tillotson questions the 40-student classroom figure. Currently, she writes, the Philadelphia School District has a student-teacher ratio of 16 to 1, just slightly smaller than the national average of 17 to 1. How would laying off 1,300 teachers cause classrooms to become so large?

  • A student-teacher ratio is not the same as classroom size, but research from Matt Chingos of the Brookings Institution indicates that a 17 to 1 student-teacher radio typically results in an elementary school class size of 22 and a high school class size of 26.
  • The Philadelphia school district has not said what its average class size is.
  • A teacher's union agreement indicates that a 25-student classroom should be the goal, though the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers says that class sizes likely consisted of more than 30 students.

But according to Tillotson, even if the 1,300 layoffs were full-time classroom teachers (as opposed to teachers in other positions), the student-teacher ratio would be just 20 to 1. A resulting classroom of 40 students, she writes, is unlikely.

Even so, the 40 to 1 claim has become a central talking point in the demand for additional school funding, writes Tillotson. 

Source: Mary C. Tillotson, "When it comes to class sizes, Philadelphia School District's numbers don't add up," Watchdog.org, July 28, 2014

 

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