School Choice




Hope and Success in Opportunity Scholarship Program

JULY 15, 2014

James Cromartie is a 7th grader at the School of Church Farm in Exton, Pa. His mom, Lynne, is grateful for the school's challenging academics, art, music and athletic programs.

"Many of these 'extras' are unavailable at the middle schools in my neighborhood," she explains.

James is one of thousands helped by the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). Reserved for students in the lowest-performing public schools, the OSTC provides hope in largely hopeless situations. The program helped 1,318 students with $15.6 million in credits claimed in its first year. Fifty million dollars in scholarships will be available in the future, meaning the program can save almost three times as many kids from failing schools!

The OSTC, like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), allows businesses to receive tax deductions for funding scholarships, so students like James can participate in groups that don’t exist in many public schools.

The quality of these programs is gaining national praise. A new report by the Center for Education Reform gives Pennsylvania a 'B' grade with the fourth best school choice options in the nation.

Plus, the OSTC is saving tax dollars. Each OSTC student that chooses to attend a private school instead of a public school saves taxpayers more than $11,000.

Cost per Student FY 2012-13

Public Public School Spending Per Student

$14,621

Average Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit

$3,193

Savings Per Scholarship Student

$11,428

Lynne continues, "The effects of inferior education are devastating to families and communities. Parents should be able to select an educational setting which best fits the needs of their child and their families. The Opportunity Scholarship has enabled me to send my son to the school of his choice so that he can pursue his educational goals and dreams."

The OSTC, like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, is a win for families, businesses and taxpayers. But most importantly, it's giving children trapped in violent and failing schools a second chance.

posted by MICHAEL HOGG, ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:32 PM | Comments

A Fair Funding Formula: School Choice

JUNE 12, 2014

Case for School Choice

Although it doesn’t fit the popular narrative of cash-starved school districts, spending on education is at an all-time high.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education budget reached $11.2 billion in FY 2013-14, more than one-third of the total $28.4 billion in General Fund appropriations. Basic education funding alone increased by $90 million, bringing that line item to nearly $5.5 billion.

While school district spending exceeds $14,000 per student, ranking 10th in the nation, performance has not improved with spending increases. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows nearly three in five Pennsylvania’s 8th grade students aren’t making proficiency in reading and math. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania public schools reported 14,572 violent incidents in the 2012-2013 school year.

In contrast, schools of choice have become increasingly popular as they spend less per student and provide better and safer schools for families. School choice saves Pennsylvania taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Public charter schools and cyber charter schools educate children for a fraction of the $14,027 per pupil spent in public district schools. The average EITC scholarship, which allows a child to leave a district school for a school of his or her choice, was $1,100 in 2011-12, while non-public schools receive about $1,250 per pupil in taxpayer support. If each of the 391,657 students utilizing school choice returned to public district schools, schools would require an additional $3.8 billion in revenue to handle the enrollment.

Total Taxpayer Savings from Students Attending Schools of Choice

 2011-12 School Year

 

Savings Per Student*

Number of Students**

Total Savings

Private and Nonpublic

$12,777

265,724

$3,395,155,548

EITC Scholarship Students

$11,677

45,200

$527,800,400

Home School

$14,027

20,897

$293,122,219

Public Charter (Total)

$1,429

105,036

$150,096,444

Cyber Charter

$2,516

32,322

$81,322,152

Total

 

391,657

$3,838,374,211

* Includes All state funding for nonpublic schools plus tax credits for EITC scholarships as a cost.

** Homeschooling enrollment estimate based on 2007-08 PDE data.

Sources: PA Department of Education, Summaries of Annual Financial Report Data; Public School Enrollment Reports, http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/data_and_statistics/7202

A report by the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice found that school choice “improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, [and] moves students into more integrated classrooms.” The report includes numerous empirical studies. It finds 11 out of 12 gold standard studies found school choice improved academic outcomes for participants, and all six empirical studies of school choice’s fiscal impact found that school choice saves taxpayer money. Not only is school choice a sound investment for the state, it places power back into the hands of parents.

Is it possible to better educate students at a lower cost to taxpayers? Absolutely, and school choice programs prove it.

posted by JESSICA BARNETT | 09:00 AM | Comments

Philadelphia Charter Schools Fight for Students

MAY 23, 2014

In the search for a solution to its nearly $30 million year-end deficit—not to mention a projected $216 million budget gap next year—the School District of Philadelphia is once again putting public charter schools on the chopping block.

Blaming charter school payments for the district’s increased financial distress, the School Reform Commission (SRC) moved to enforce enrollment caps and withhold funding late last year. This move, illegal in all of Pennsylvania’s other 499 school districts, means that charters must either send students back to their local schools or suffer the threat of having their charters revoked.

But West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School is fighting for its students. Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted the school’s request for an injunction against the SRC’s decision, putting at least a temporary stop to the punitive measures.

What’s at stake? West Philadelphia Achievement’s CEO and co-founder Stacy Gill Phillips wants to prevent sending 200 students back to the failing and often violent schools from which they fled (via Philly.com):

The drive behind our historic lawsuit is the best interests of students and families who are desperately seeking quality education. It is time that we shift the charter school conversation from the School District's bottom line back to the children of Philadelphia, where it belongs.

With more than 60,000 current Philadelphia charter students and 44,000 students  on the state’s waiting list, many students and parents clearly prefer charter schools—and there’s academic achievement to back it up. As PA Independent reports, the School Performance Profile for Philadelphia district schools scored 57.5, while its charter schools scored 66.9.

Competition for school funding continues to drive harmful educational policy, even though increased spending doesn’t necessarily lead to better education. Case in point: Students will wait in lines thousands deep for the opportunities charter schools provide, even though they receive 20 percent less funding per pupil.

What Philadelphia needs is true charter reform which would, as Nate Benefield testified before the Auditor General, strengthen charter school accountability and transparency and pursue alternative authorizers, like 16 other states have.

In the battle between district and charter schools, Phillips puts it best:

If the School District sees a need to control the growth of charter schools, then it should squash the tremendous demand from Philadelphia families by doing its job: offering a quality education to the city's children.

Rather than seek to close and stifle the growth of quality charter schools for financial gain, the School District must evaluate why it has lost so many students, fix where it went wrong, and achieve the level of excellence that will give parents a reason to return to district schools.

 

posted by JESSICA BARNETT | 08:00 AM | Comments

SAT Scores Slip While Spending Soars

APRIL 16, 2014

Pennsylvania education spending is at at all-time high and ranks near the top in dollars spent per student among the states. But all of that extra spending isn't helping kids succeed.

In fact, SAT scores have declined while spending has soared. According to a new Cato Institute analysis, Pennsylvania students perform worse, on average, on the SATs now compared to 1972, despite an almost 120 percent increase—adjusted for inflation—in spending per student. See the chart below.

SAT scor vs Spending

How are we spending so much more without improving education outcomes? The answer is simple: There is no correlation between spending and achievement. How the money is spent is more important than how much money there is to spend. The Cato analysis finds the correlation between state spending and academic achievement is not significant:

Correlations are measured on a scale from 0 to 1, where 0 represents absolutely no correlation
between two data series and 1 represents a perfect correlation. Anything below 0.3 or 0.4 is
considered a weak correlation. The 0.075 figure reported here suggests that there is essentially no link between state education spending (which has exploded) and the performance of students at the end of high school (which has generally stagnated or declined).

The answer to our education woes is not more spending, but smarter spending. Education reform should also mean protecting high performing teachers, embracing different education models (themed public charter schools or public cyber charter schools) to serve different learning styles, and reforming the archaic student funding formula.  

School choice and competition is the key to saving students, not never-ending spending increases. 

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:29 PM | Comments

Pennsylvania Still Not Making the Grade

FEBRUARY 3, 2014

The bipartisan education reform group, StudentsFirst, released its annual State Policy Report Card grading each state's education policies and demonstrating the need for more student-centered reforms.

How did Pennsylvania fare? Well, we got a D+.

However, other states didn't fare much better as “D+” was the national average. StudentsFirst assessed each state’s education policies on three criteria: elevating the teaching profession, empowering parents, and whether or not a state spends wisely and governs well. Pennsylvania did not score above a “C” in any of these categories.

Why did Pennsylvania score so low, and how can it improve?

Elevate the Teaching Profession (C-): Pennsylvania made progress in this pillar by instituting a new teacher evaluation system, called the Teacher Effectiveness System. The profile is designed to effectively identify teachers who are excelling, while providing support to those teachers who need improvement. To improve, StudentsFirst suggests ending the practice of making employment decisions based only on seniority, which harms both teachers and students.

Empower Parents (D-): Pennsylvania has not done enough to empower parents to make informed educational choices for their children. The state should implement an A-F grading system, building on the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile, to provide parents with an easy-to-understand way to assess each school, and hold schools more accountable. Supporting the growth of high-performing public charter schools would also go a long way in empowering parents.

If policymakers are looking for the most effective way to empower parents, they should consider expanding educational tax credits and scholarships, which would rescue children from violent and failing schools. Not only would an expansion empower parents, but it would save taxpayers money and improve educational outcomes.

Spend Wisely and Govern Well (C): While Pennsylvania spends more than $14,000 per student, we have not seen the kind of positive results expected from such a large investment. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), more than half of 4th and 8th grade students are not proficient in reading and math. In order to make more effective use of taxpayer resources, StudentsFirst suggests linking spending to student outcomes, creating a statewide recovery district for low-performing schools and providing teachers with a portable retirement plan.

Despite the nation's "D+" grade, progress is being made, as StudentFirst notes:

The second takeaway is that change is still happening much too slowly. Instead of passing a comprehensive set of education policies, far too many states are taking a piecemeal approach. Other states appear to employ an on-again, off-again approach to education, focusing heavily on education reform one year, then taking a pass on putting any complementary policies into place the next year.

Any progress is welcome, but states need to pick up the pace on reform. The longer reform is put off, the more children will suffer from sub-par education in failing schools. Their future depends on education reform.

posted by BOB DICK | 00:45 PM | Comments

Philly Experiment Shows Charter School Promise

JANUARY 17, 2014

School Choice 101

Philadelphia schools have long battled declining student achievement, sky-rocketing violence, and unsustainable spending levels. Yet, several turn-around schools have managed to overcome this bleak educational trajectory and should serve as a model for further reforms.

Pennsylvania Independent’s Maura Pennington examines the striking consequences of Philadelphia School District’s 2010 experiment in reforming its lowest performing schools. The district employed two models: district-managed Promise Academies and privately-operated Renaissance Charter Schools.

The outcome? In short, things worsened for district-run schools, but the Renaissance Charter alternatives are showing improvement.

The latest report shows that the district’s Promise Academies lacked proper oversight and clarity as they sought to hire new staff and enforce a uniform dress code. One major hurdle they could not overcome was seniority requirements, which led to major staffing problems. And the district’s fiscal mismanagement led to funding decreases that severed the cornerstone of the reform—greater student instruction time.

At this point, three district-run Promise Academy high schools have closed, and in those that remain, academic performance sits below the district average. 

Renaissance Charter Schools—free from seniority requirements and other bureaucratic restrictions—managed to surmount the same obstacles and forge a path to success. When implementing new policies and procedures, they were governed by specific missions and goals and, consequently, achieved, according to one Renaissance Charter parent, “more order, organization, safer learning environment and a mutually agreed upon commitment from the staff at all levels.”

The benefits are tangible:

  • Decreased violence. At Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Charter School, serious safety incidents plummeted from 23.86 per 100 students in 2008-09 to .61 in 2010.
  • Increased academic achievement: Grover Cleveland Mastery Charter School gained 10 percentage points in reading and math proficiency one year after the change.

With such stark results and parental support, Philadelphia should look to the charter model of reform to take its failing schools to the next level.   

posted by JESSICA BARNETT, JOHN BOUDER | 11:30 AM | Comments

PODCAST: StudentsFirst on Education Reform

JANUARY 8, 2014

Part two of our conversation with Ashley DeMauro, PA state director for StudentsFirst, features an in-depth discussion of seniority reform, teacher evaluations, school transparency, and charter school reform.  Here are some highlights:

How can we measure teacher effectiveness to ensure education quality?

Because of recent reforms pushed for by StudentsFirst and others, Pennsylvania now has a robust, 4-tier rating system for educator performance.

So, once they're identified, how do we reward and protect the best public school teachers in the state?

Doing away with the "last in, first out" seniority-based hiring and firing is an obvious step one.

How can we make school spending and contracting more transparent to protect taxpayers?

A proposed transparency website called SchoolWATCH promises to do just that.

What’s on the General Assembly’s plate regarding long-overdue charter school reform?

SB 1085, while unnecessarily punitive to cyber schools, promises to expand charter authorization while enhancing accountability measures.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Find out more about StudentsFirst in PA and follow them on Twitter @PAStudentsFirst.

In case you missed it, listen to our first conversation with Ashley DeMauro on Pennsylvania's new student performance profiles.

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 02:55 PM | Comments

VIDEO: Charter Schools Threatened by Punitive Rules

JANUARY 2, 2014

With a waiting list 30,000 students long, you'd think Philadelphia would be working to expand the reach of charter schools. Sadly, Philadelphia's School Reform Commission is seeking just the opposite, despite the city's dismal academic achievement scores.

As reported by Maura Pennington of the Pennsylvania Independent, the School Reform Comission recently issued an ultimatum to several area charter schools. A bevy of new rules and regulations, called SRC-1, were to be signed by December 15, but many charters have refused to comply.

These new rules would restrict charter growth via enrollment caps—even for high-performing charters—and enable the School District of Philadelphia to withhold their funding, according to Sarah Leitner at MediaTrackers PA.

What's behind this power grab by the education establishment and how can charters fight to maintain choice for urban students?

We talked to Maura Pennington and Sarah Leitner in our latest Google Hangout:

Stay up to date on social media:

Twitter: @PAIndependent & @MediaTrackersPA
Facebook: PA Independent & MediaTrackers PA

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 09:00 AM | Comments

Philadelphia's Education Crisis Worsens

DECEMBER 19, 2013

More than 80 percent of 4th and 8th grade students in the School District of Philadelphia didn't reach proficiency in math and reading, according to the Nation's Report Card. When compared to other large cities, Philadelphia scores well below the average.

What does "proficiency" mean? Here's the definition: "This level represents solid academic performance for each grade assessed. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter, including subject-matter knowledge, application of such knowledge to real world situations, and analytical skills appropriate to the subject matter."

So, 80 percent of students in Philadelphia public schools (excluding charters) are not meeting these criteria, indicating an ongoing crisis in the Philadelphia school system.  

Critics will claim that Governor Corbett’s phantom education cuts are to blame. But state payments for public schools are at the highest level in the history of the commonwealth. 

While the school district did lose overall funding, it was mainly due to the expiration of federal stimulus dollars, which were only temporary, and should not have been used to plug holes in a budget plagued by a structural deficit. Philadelphia already receives approximately the state average in education funding per student and higher than the average relative to other states. Funding is not the problem.

Pennsylvania does need a fair funding formula to improve education, but families and students should be the beneficiaries of funding, not bureaucracies. 

Calls for real education reform to save students from failing schools have been met with vigorous opposition from unions. Whether it's fighting to reduce teaching standards, continuing to defend outdated seniority rules or opposing school choice, government union leaders are front-and-center in the effort to block efforts to improve the educational system and perserve the status quo.

That has to change. 

posted by BOB DICK | 01:30 PM | Comments

Reform Cybers Without Arbitrary Cuts

NOVEMBER 18, 2013

How will more than 35,000 cyber school students be affected by legislation pending in the state Senate this week? There’s both good and bad news on the horizon and your voice is critical.

The good: Senate Bill 1085 fixes the “pension double dip” for cyber schools in an equitable manner—an improvement on the bill passed by the House that cut funding more severely. SB 1085 would also institute necessary accountability and oversight measures, which would give cyber and charter schools more fiscal transparency. The bill would also allow universities to authorize new charter schools, lessening school districts' ability to squelch their own competition.

The bad: SB 1085 threatens an arbitrary 5 percent funding reduction for cyber schools. This “ready, fire, aim” approach cuts funding for cybers before a commissioned study on charter school funding has time to make a reasoned report.  

What would school districts “save” from this arbitrary cut? Not much, a 5 percent cut to cybers would fund a mere 57 minutes of school district class time statewide. For cybers, though, it amounts to about one-third of teacher salaries, and could effectively shut the door on many families’ educational choices.

Why should cyber school students have to do with even less, especially when they already account for just one percent of state and local education spending? Cyber and charter schools already receive only about 80 percent of the per-student funding that traditional public schools get.

Tell the state Senate how you feel about keeping educational choice alive for tens of thousands of families across the state!

posted by JOHN BOUDER | 03:07 PM | Comments

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