Education

CF’s work in education focuses on promoting opportunity and improving children’s lives though incentive-based reforms. Instead of repeating the failed attempts to reform education through new rules or additional funding, such reforms use competition to improve education.  Incentive-based reforms include providing choice within the public school system through charter schools and cyber schools, providing families with private school options through vouchers or tax credit-funded scholarships, and measuring and rewarding success in education for both schools and teachers. Only when parents are able to choose the best school for their child, have an abundance of educational choices and ample information, and schools are forced to compete for students will we provide the best education to Pennsylvania’s youth.


Union Abuses Force Pennsylvania Teachers to Speak Out

September 19, 2013 | Commentary by Bob Dick

Did you know teachers’ unions can force many teachers in Pennsylvania to pay dues or a “fair share fee” that’s taken directly out of teachers’ paychecks? What’s more, this withholding of fair share fees, union dues, and even union political contributions is done at taxpayers’ expense, and the teachers have no choice.



Five Ways Dollars Are Kept Out of Philadelphia Classrooms

JANUARY 22, 2015

The school district of Philadelphia saw a $1 billion increase in revenue over the past decade, even as enrollment declined. Yet many claim there isn't enough funding for basic classrooms supplies. The question is: Where is the money going if not into the classroom?

1. Union Leader Salaries

The PFT forces teachers to pay more than $700 for the average teacher each year in dues (or more than $500 in fair share fees to keep their jobs). Teachers never see that money as it is deducted from their paycheck just like taxes. 

At the same time, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, makes an astounding $550,000 a year off of teachers' dues. In fact, AFT has more than 200 staffers making more than $100,000 in compensation, according to the Center for Union Facts

Without such high dues, teachers could keep more of their salary and higher take home pay would help attract high quality teachers.

2. Political Spending

Philadelphia teacher union dues are being spent on political ads at the rate of $70,000 per minute. PFT ran two 30-second TV ads during an Eagles football game attacking Governor Corbett and select lawmakers. The cost of those two ads alone were $35,000 each, according to records filed with the FCC.

Nationally, the AFT spent more money on elections this year than ever before, including a gift of $500,000 from teachers’ union dues to fund attack ads via a “SuperPAC.” This money could buy countless classroom supplies the union claims Philadelphia schools lack. The teacher’s union’s actions indicate leadership is more concerned with playing politics than providing resources to struggling teachers and students.

3. Administrative Costs

The School District of Philadelphia has among the highest administrative costs in the state. In 2012-13, Philadelphia had a higher administrator to student ratio than the average Pennsylvania school district. In addition, the average administrator salary is $129,573, which ranks in the top 25 most generous school districts in Pennsylvania. These high overhead costs focus resources on adults instead of kids.

4. Health Care Costs

This past fall, for the first time, Philadelphia teachers were asked to contribute a portion of their salary towards health care premiums, a request made of teachers in every other Pennsylvania school district save one. With this change, approximately $54 million could go directly to classrooms if teachers begin to contribute just a percentage of their own health care costs. The School Reform Commission proposed teachers pay between 5 and 13 percent of their health care costs. That is about half of the 23 percent the average Pennsylvanian pays towards employer sponsored family coverage.

Former Governor Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board all agree with the necessity for reasonable concessions—but the PFT refuses to compromise. Without these savings, more teacher layoffs will be necessary.

5. PFT Health and Welfare Fund

Apart from health insurance, the school district contributes to the PFT Health and Welfare Fund. This entity, controlled by the PFT, provides supplemental benefits, such as dental and vision, along with a wide variety of other programs, such as term life insurance and an annual educational conference.

By simply ending the PFT’s monopoly control over these benefits, and selecting a high-quality benefit provider in the marketplace, the school district would save an estimated $22.4 million. Teachers will still receive these benefits with the savings would being directed back into the classroom for the benefit of students.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 00:45 PM | Comments

Are Charter Schools Too Popular?

JANUARY 16, 2015

Charter schools

Of the 40 applications for new charter schools in Philadelphia, surely a few should not be approved by the School Reform Commission (SRC). Each individual applicant has its own strengths, weaknesses, and visions for expanding educational opportunity. It seems reasonable that some schools receive a green-light while others are turned away.

According to a report from Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), however, all 40 charter applicants should be flatly rejected. Why? Because they will be too popular and attract too many students.

The charter slots requested could grow total charter enrollment to 104,642 students or approximately 51 percent of the District’s total enrollment. Nationally, Philadelphia ranks 3rd highest for percentage of students who are enrolled in charter schools, trailing only New Orleans and Detroit.

Clearly there is a reason why so many students are fleeing the traditional schooling model in Philadelphia. Yet defenders of the education status-quo want to force these families to remain trapped in an unsatisfactory system.

PCCY also bemoans that only 40 percent of the schools currently operated by applicants for new charters exceeded a score 70 on the 2013 Department of Education State Performance Profile (SPP). The report fails to mention that the 2013 average district SPP score was 57.5. This means that roughly 70 percent of the schools currently operated by new charter applicants exceed the district’s average SPP score.

The SRC is tasked with selecting the best applicants in a city desperate for more choice and better options. Rather than following PCCY's lead and stubbornly lumping all charter schools into the same group, each applicant should be evaluated on its own merit. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 03:00 PM | Comments

Super Six: Important 'Wins' for Taxpayers, Kids this Year

DECEMBER 30, 2014

Policymakers made significant strides over the past legislative session to increase school choice, save taxpayers from waste and abuse in unemployment compensation, and protect students. While critical reforms remain, it's worth celebrating these policy victories from the past legislative session.

Six Policy Victories in the 2013-2014 Legislative Session

1. Banned the practice of "passing the trash." Act 168 of 2014 prevents teachers accused of abuse from quietly resigning and relocating to a new school without having to inform that new school of their alleged misconduct. The law also strengthens the background check process and prohibits school districts from entering into "confidentiality agreements" that suppress abuse allegations. Commonwealth Foundation supported ending this disturbing practice while government unions took a neutral position.

2. Reduced the state debt ceiling. In 2013, lawmakers reduced the total amount of debt allowed under RACP (Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program) by $600 million. Act 77 of 2013 also provides greater accountability, oversight and transparency regarding how RACP grants are awarded.

RACP uses borrowed money—paid back by taxpayers with interest—for "economic development" projects, or corporate welfare. We’ve regularly exposed the most controversial uses of RACP funds, such as the Arlen Specter Library, Tastykake's corporate headquarters, numerous sports stadiums, and a $3 million grant to the Second Mile, the charity founded by convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky. An effort to further reduce the RACP debt limit to $2.95 billion passed the state House in 2014, but stalled in the Senate.

3. Strengthened school choice for children and their parents. Lawmakers consolidated the Education Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) into one statute, while simplifying and streamlining the application process. This also allows unused credits to be shifted from one scholarship program to another. Thanks to Act 194 of 2014, more credits will be utilized and thousands more scholarships can serve as a lifeline to students trapped in failing schools. Commonwealth Foundation has consistently pushed for greater school choice options, including the creation of the OSTC.

4. Reformed taxes for small businesses and more. Lawmakers enacted some tax reform last session with Act 52 of 2013. Lawmakers increased the Net Operating Loss (NOL) Cap, created a new deduction for small start-up businesses, and exempted family-owned businesses from the inheritance tax. While Commonwealth Foundation has advocated for broad-based tax reform, these measures are a step in the right direction towards lessening the tax burden on job creators.

5. Protected jobs for Pennsylvanians in the energy field. New EPA regulations require expensive, unproven technologies that would kill jobs and bankrupt companies. Commonwealth Foundation has documented how destructive these new regulations are to existing PA jobs. Act 175 of 2014 preserves state control of the energy industry by allowing the state legislature to publicly reject a state carbon emissions plan.

6. Ended "triple-dipping" for government employees. Act 75 of 2013 stops former state employees from receiving both retirement and unemployment benefits. The law ends "triple-dipping," where an individual retires and collects a public pension or private retirement benefit and then temporarily returns to work, only to collect unemployment compensation when leaving the job. This one change will reap an estimated million dollars in savings this fiscal year.

Milestones of Note

Liquor Privatization Progress. Three Pennsylvania governors have attempted to privatize the liquor store system. In 2013, for the first time in state history, the PA House passed a bill that would end the government liquor store monopoly. Commonwealth Foundation has pushed for full liquor privatization by exposing the contradictory mission and gross carelessness of the PLCB. Lawmakers can build upon this historic accomplishment in the new session.

Awareness and Advocacy for Paycheck Protection. In 2014, thanks to lawmakers and teachers speaking out through CF's Free to Teach project, a version of paycheck protection passed committees in both the House and Senate. In the new session, lawmakers have a golden opportunity to finish what they started and pass paycheck protection, now known as Mary’s law.

Pension Reform Progress. Legislation to put new state employees and school teachers into a defined-contribution retirement plan (like a 401k) passed committees in both the state House and Senate. Government union leaders, defending the status quo, prevented these bills from coming up for a vote. For years the Commonwealth Foundation touted the merits of defined contribution retirement plans and warned about the impending crisis in public pensions—that crisis is now reality.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:53 AM | Comments

SAT Scores by State 2014

DECEMBER 22, 2014

Every year, the College Board releases its SAT Report on College & Career Readiness, which includes SAT data for individual states. We've organized this data into one convenient spreadsheet (embedded below), ranking the states by their mean composite SAT scores.

How does Pennsylvania rank?

Pennsylvania ranks 37th in the nation with a composite score of 1481, lagging behind the national average. You can view Pennsylvania's full profile here.

A fifty state comparison is less meaningful, though, than looking at the narrower category of high participation states.

States with high participation rates, including Pennsylvania, tend to have lower average scores because most high school seniors—not just the highest performers—take the SAT. In other states, most students take the ACT. We have also included below a ranking of states with high participation rates in order to better rank Pennsylvania among states with comparable participation.

To improve the performance of Pennsylvania students, Pennsylvania parents need greater school choice to select the best school for their children.

posted by LINDSEY WANNER | 05:16 PM | Comments

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Low Expectations

DECEMBER 19, 2014

Is it true that schools with high concentrations of low-income students face unique challenges? Yes. Should poverty, along with several other social problems, be understood as a factor that influences academic achievement? Of course. Should we thus expect students from low-income families to persistently underperform on state tests and be forever relegated to a second-rate education? Absolutely not.

A fine line exists between recognizing poverty as a factor in academic performance and using it as crutch to excuse dismally performing schools. Nowhere is this more apparent than the York City school district.

A recent article on York’s potential conversion to charter schools explains that none of the district’s eight schools are meeting state testing goals. The piece quotes Wythe Keever, assistant communications director for the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), who is undeterred by the test scores:

Wythe said York performs just as well as schools that have similar populations of disadvantaged and special needs children. “The school district is right about where you’d expect it to be when you have an urban school district serving an impoverished population that’s already been decimated by Corbett’s budget cuts," Wythe said.

The comment (emphasis mine) is noteworthy for several reasons. Not only is Keever factually inaccurate about the district’s performance and finances—more on that in a moment—but he also seems to subscribe to the view that urban, low-income students are condemned to bad test scores and substandard learning gains.

A recent CF Policy Points explains that even when compared to other economically disadvantaged students in Pennsylvania, York City students lag behind state averages.

York City PSSA Results 2012 (Percentage)
York City SD Statewide Economically Disadvantaged, State
Advanced or Proficient, Math 53.1 75.6 61.6
Advanced or Proficient, Reading 41.5 72.0 55.4
Below Basic, Math 25.7 11.1 19.0
Below Basic, Reading 35.8 13.7 24.3

Keever is also off base when he claims the district was decimated by state level budget cuts. State revenue per student was steady throughout the previous five years, including a substantial increase in 2012-13. Overall revenue levels did modestly fall in the 2011-12 budget, but the chart below clearly demonstrates that this was due to a sharp decline in federal revenue (read: stimulus dollars).

YorkCitySpending

Additionally, out of the 500 school districts in Pennsylvania, York is consistently within the top quintile of state revenue per student:

York City Revenue Rank, by Source

State Local

Federal

2008-2009 74 398 8
2009-2010 59 422 7
2010-2011 49 401 6
2011-2012 105 416 49
2012-2013 62 405 49

Factual errors aside, the most disheartening component of Keever’s remarks is that low-income students should be expected to lag behind their peers in academic performance. Setting such low standards does not serve the best interests of students and parents in York City.

It is not entirely surprising, however, that a spokesman from the largest teachers' union in the state has succumbed to the self-fulfilling prophecy of low expectations. After all, the PSEA is a consistent opponent to many reforms—expanded school choice, seniority reform, merit pay—that would improve the quality of education in the commonwealth.

Each student has unique circumstances, needs and abilities—but no student should be resigned to failure.

posted by JAMES PAUL, LINDSEY WANNER | 09:00 AM | Comments

Harmed by "Hold Harmless"

DECEMBER 15, 2014

There are few more egregious examples of political doublespeak than Pennsylvania’s “hold harmless” provision for state education funding.

Hold harmless guarantees each school district receives no fewer state education dollars than it received the previous year—regardless of changes in district enrollment. This may sound appealing in theory, but it is actually quite problematic in practice. While the policy ostensibly exists to prevent school districts from being harmed by reduced funding, it has, in fact, brought real harm and inequity to hundreds of districts across the commonwealth.

Consider that during the 2012-13 school year, state revenue per student in Pennsylvania's 20 fastest-growing districts was slightly more than $3,000. In contrast, state revenue per student among those districts with the largest decreases in enrollment was nearly $10,000. Put another way, school districts with declining enrollment received more than three times the state funding per student than growing districts.

20 Fastest Growing PA Districts 1996-2013

District

County

Growth

2013 State
Revenue Per Student

Garnet Valley

Delaware

119%

$2,877.47

Perkiomen Valley

Montgomery

89%

$2,826.65

South Fayette Township

Allegheny

86%

$2,698.31

Spring-Ford Area

Montgomery

83%

$2,764.82

Pine-Richland

Allegheny

74%

$2,686.28

New Hope-Solebury

Bucks

61%

$2,777.26

Central York

York

60%

$2,555.85

Oxford Area

Chester

56%

$4,538.11

Avon Grove

Chester

53%

$4,340.74

Daniel Boone Area

Berks

53%

$4,282.96

Mars Area

Butler

52%

$3,217.76

Lower Moreland Twn

Montgomery

48%

$2,888.73

Kennett Consolidated

Chester

47%

$2,842.80

Jim Thorpe Area

Carbon

45%

$2,885.29

Central Bucks

Bucks

45%

$2,401.97

Tredyffrin-Easttown

Chester

44%

$2,211.83

Owen J Roberts

Chester

41%

$3,120.39

Peters Township

Washington

40%

$2,608.30

Wilson

Berks

39%

$2,784.51

Northeastern York

York

38%

$4,602.52

Average Top 20

59%

$3,095.63

20 Fastest Shrinking PA Districts 1996-2013

District

County

Growth

2013 State
Revenue Per Student

McGuffey

Washington

-30%

$7,979.42

Sullivan County

Sullivan

-30%

$6,208.08

Southeastern Greene

Greene

-31%

$11,399.85

Warren County

Warren

-31%

$7,881.19

Jeannette City

Westmoreland

-32%

$9,242.87

Ligonier Valley

Westmoreland

-32%

$5,611.11

Susquehanna Community

Susquehanna

-32%

$10,778.41

Union

Clarion

-32%

$11,529.47

Punxsutawney Area

Jefferson

-32%

$9,524.06

Austin Area

Potter

-32%

$11,885.68

Galeton Area

Potter

-33%

$7,903.20

Cranberry Area

Venango

-33%

$8,525.50

Farrell Area

Mercer

-33%

$12,197.76

Marion Center Area

Indiana

-34%

$10,288.15

Northern Potter

Potter

-35%

$10,904.21

Allegheny-Clarion Valley

Clarion

-35%

$11,479.26

Purchase Line

Indiana

-35%

$12,383.83

Johnsonburg Area

Elk

-36%

$11,175.29

Salisbury-Elk Lick

Somerset

-39%

$9,555.59

Cameron County

Cameron

-39%

$10,600.96

Average Bottom 20

-33%

$9,852.69

A new policy brief from Temple University's Center on Regional Politics finds that Pennsylvania’s education funding system is out of sync with the rest of the nation.

While 11 other states provide a hold harmless guarantee to school districts, no other state in the nation also guarantees districts with declining enrollment a share of new education revenues.

Not only do Pennsylvania school districts retain baseline funding levels—regardless of student enrollment and student need—but declining enrollment districts are guaranteed a portion of new education revenues. The authors describe this practice as “hold harmless plus.”

Hold Harmless

My colleague Nate Benefield and I recently offered testimony to the Basic Education Funding Commission, where a large portion of our remarks focused on transitioning away from hold harmless in favor a weighted student funding (WSF) model.

Currently, if a Pennsylvania student moves from one district to another, state funding does not follow the child to her new school.

Above all else, a weighted model would distribute funds that truly follow each child. WSF also accounts for individual student need by providing additional dollars for low-income and English language learners.

The Funding Commission presents an important opportunity to establish a funding formula that is equitable, rational, and transparent. The first step for lawmakers should be to phase out hold harmless, once and for all.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 10:30 AM | Comments

Audio: Could Charter Conversion be in York City's Future?

DECEMBER 10, 2014

York City School District—financially distressed and second-to-last in the state in student achievement—may be in for some much-needed change in the coming weeks. After two years of obstruction from the local school board and teachers’ union on more modest measures, the state has finally petitioned for receivership of the troubled district.

Tomorrow, there will be a hearing in York to help inform a judge’s decision to grant the state’s receivership petition. If granted, all of York's district schools will be converted into to charters—one of only a few districts in the country to take such a step.

Today, CF's James Paul joined The Gary Sutton Show on WSBA 910 to provide background on how we got here, who has been blocking other attempts at reform, and what this all could mean for York city students and families.

Listen to a portion of the show below and read James’ recent op-ed “Is Second Worst Good Enough for York Students?” for more.

The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 03:30 PM | Comments

More Choice on the way to Philadelphia?

DECEMBER 9, 2014

Tens of thousands of Philadelphia students languishing on charter waiting lists have reason to hope. For the first time in seven years, the School District of Philadelphia will consider applications from new charter schools.

This week the district is receiving presentations from 40 applicants who will make the case for additional educational options. A second set of hearings are scheduled in January where applicants will be reviewed and questioned by district officials. Ten of the 40 proposed schools have an explicit focus on the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

What prompted Philadelphia to break its seven-year charter lock-out? Tucked away in the recent cigarette tax legislation was a provision requiring the district to accept annual applications from new charter schools.

Seemingly endless wait lists—combined with the 62,500 students currently enrolled in brick and mortar charter schools—are evidence of the sector’s popularity in Philadelphia. Enrollment in district-run schools has sharply declined over the last decade as more families opt for schools of choice.

On the whole, Philadelphia charter schools are performing well. The average city charter school outperformed the average city district school in 2012-13. What’s more, an analysis by Philadelphia School Partnership reveals that the charter sector is succeeding in serving low-income students: Of the 17 city schools with passing State Performance Profile scores and enrollment of least 80 percent economically disadvantaged students, 12 are run by charter operators.

Given their immense popularity, long waitlists, and encouraging performance, it’s a shame that new charter schools have been locked out of the application process for so long—but it's no surprise. Granting school districts the power to authorize a new charter school is like asking McDonalds to green-light the construction of a new Wendy’s next door. Establishing a high quality statewide authorizer in the commonwealth would be a marked improvement over the current policy. 

It remains to be seen whether any new charters will be approved, but at least there's a chance for more children to find better, safer schools.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 11:00 AM | Comments

A Shoddy Attack on Charters

NOVEMBER 11, 2014

Charter Schools

My letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Daily News takes issue with the paper's recent characterization of charter schools as "fiscal monsters." 

The Daily News editorial on charter schools ("Frankencharters") includes scary Halloween analogies but does a disservice to genuine efforts to improve education in Philadelphia. Referring to charter schools as "fiscal monsters" flatly ignores that charters spend and receive fewer dollars per student than district schools.

Despite significantly less funding, Philadelphia charters outperformed district schools on the 2012-13 State Performance Profile. Charters actually operate with maximum accountability, since poor academic performance or financial mismanagement will result in closure - a fate that rarely, if ever, befalls district schools. Will the Daily News similarly refer to failing district-run schools as "monsters" that need to be "reined in" when the next cheating scandal occurs?

It should come as no surprise that charters receive their funding from school districts, since charters are public schools, too. That so many families have opted for charters reflect their success - it illustrates the overwhelming demand for expanding school choice.

Continued oversight and transparency is an appropriate policy goal for charter and district-run schools alike - especially in light of the closure of Walter Palmer, which is indeed devastating to the students and families involved. But the unique circumstances surrounding Walter Palmer do not justify demonizing largely successful charters citywide.

The 34,000 students currently languishing on charter waiting lists illustrate the urgent nature of school reform. Denying them more educational options - just to prop up the failing status quo - does not serve the best interests of Philadelphia.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 06:24 PM | Comments

Step Forward for School Choice

NOVEMBER 4, 2014

Geronda Montalvo did not want to send her daughter Zayda to the low-achieving schools in her neighborhood. Thanks to an Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) scholarship, Zayda is thriving at Holy Child Academy. And thanks to the passage of HB 91, more mothers like Geronda will have educational options.

HB 91 consolidates the EITC and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) into one statute, which will simplify and streamline the application process. Businesses are now able to apply for an alternate credit if its preferred credit is unavailable, and the Department of Community and Economic Development now has the authority to transfer unused credits between programs.

In 2001, Pennsylvania became the first state in the country to enact an education tax credit program. Since that time, the EITC has provided more than 430,000 scholarships to students and families seeking schooling options.

Here’s how the EITC program works. First, businesses make donations to registered, vetted charities that award scholarships. The business receives a tax credit worth 75 percent of the donation, while the charity organization uses the donated funds to award scholarships for students to attend schools of choice. The OSTC was added in 2012—a program designed specifically for students who reside in the lowest performing school districts in the commonwealth.

Ultimately, HB 91 allows more credits to be utilized, more scholarships to be offered, and more lifelines for students trapped in failing schools. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 11:45 AM | Comments

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