You'll be happy (or maybe concerned/puzzled) to know that your tax dollars continue to pump up school district reserve funds all across the state.
Yep. Despite constant complaints of inadequate resources, unfair funding, and unmet needs, districts in every region are holding/hoarding barrels of money in interest-bearing accounts.
Annual data from the state Department of Education show reserve amounts increase every year.
Every year I point it out. Every year nothing changes.
Latest statewide reserves (for 2016-17), including funds for charter and vocational schools, approach $5 billion; for school districts alone it's $4.53 billion.
To put these numbers in context, the total state appropriation for basic education is $5.9 billion.
"School districts now hold enough money to cut every Pennsylvania student a $2,860 check," says Nathan Benefield, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think tank that also tracks school reserve funds.
How encompassing are reserve accounts?
Just 14 school districts, mostly in western counties, show negative balances. That means 97 percent of the state's 500 districts have reserves.
Even the ever-strapped Philadelphia School District shows a fund of $14 million.
How is this possible? Why does it go on?
"It's amazing, isn't it?" says state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who, when I wrote about this last year, said he'd start looking at reserve funds as part of regular school district audits.
What he found is "there's no single story. … Some districts are hoarding more and some have no reserves at all."
And by "some," he means very few.
The Pittsburgh School District is listed with the largest reserves: $186 million.
The district with the largest negative balance? Scranton. Down $30 million.
The answer from school administrators, school boards, and such is always, well, it's smart to have reserves because of rising pension costs, possible strikes, planned improvements, and the risk of the legislature cutting funding.
Makes sense. Except for the fact that reserves climb each year. Climbed even after 2011, the year of the infamous billion-dollar budget cut under Gov. Tom Corbett.
DePasquale says there are districts that should give taxpayers their money back. He adds, "When the amount of reserves gets over 20 percent of a district's total spending, I get a little anxious."
Guess he's more than a little anxious.
A Commonwealth Foundation analysis shows 226 districts, or 45 percent of all districts, hold reserves amounting to 20 percent or more of spending. And the foundation identifies 13 districts in that category that also sought to raise taxes.
They include two in Montgomery County: Springfield Township, $24.5 million in reserve, and Lower Merion, $56 million.
Other area districts with large reserves: North Penn, $40.4 million; Central Bucks, $37.7 million; West Chester Area, $26 million; Upper Darby, $23.5 million.
(You can check any district by visiting education.pa.gov. Go to the search box. Type "AFR data detailed." Click on it. Scroll down to "Miscellaneous." Click on the dates beside "General Fund Balance.")
Look, reserves are smart for any enterprise, public or private. But clearly too many districts hoard too much money and nobody holds them accountable — certainly not the legislature.
Not its left-leaning, pro-education Democrats. Not its right-leaning, fiscal-hawk Republicans. Because every lawmaker has schools in his or her district. And, hey, it's only taxpayer dollars.
Nobody wants to touch this issue. Especially in an election year.
The most I can get out of top state officials is something like I got last year from state Budget Secretary Randy Albright. He said he's "not unsympathetic" to the argument reserves are too high. He said, "We could and should begin to talk about fund balances."
But when I asked this week how talks are going, I got a prepared statement: "Gov. Wolf continues to make it a priority to increase the state's share of education funding and decrease the inequality between school districts by having more state funding flow through the fair funding formula."