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.



Gov. Wolf Should Abandon his Taxes on Working People

JULY 1, 2015

My letter to the editor in the Pocono Record tackles some of the myths about educations spending and Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed tax increase—and why, after the House of Represented rejected his plan by a 0-193 vote, he needs to move on.

Your editorial suggests state lawmakers should "make funding education a top budget priority." Done. Mission accomplished.

School district funding reached a record high last year at $26.1 billion, according to financial reports. That is a $1 billion increase from 2010-11. State revenue is also nearly $1 billion higher than four years ago.

Amazingly, school districts added $100 million to their reserve funds, and now have $4.1 billion sitting around. Moreover, Pennsylvania ranks in the top 10 states in funding per student, spending $3,000 more than the national average.

In contrast to his rhetoric, Gov. Wolf's proposed cradle-to-the-grave tax increase harms poor and middle-class families. His 16 percent sales tax and 20 percent income tax increases will be borne by all taxpayers. His highest-in-the-nation severance tax would drive up energy costs for households, including those with little income.

And his plan to tax everything from diapers and day care, college textbooks and school fees, to nursing homes and funerals, would cost some families thousands of dollars per year. Even with the promise of "property tax relief" in the future, the Independent Fiscal Office finds that every income group will pay more in taxes under the Wolf plan.

 The state House of Representatives already held a vote on Gov. Wolf’s tax proposal. It received exactly zero votes, even from Democrats.

The reality is, higher taxes will hurt working families and public schools need reform, not more taxpayer dollars. It’s time to abandon Gov. Wolf’s ill-advised tax plan and pass solutions that help.

Our latest chart, below, shows state funding for public schools through the years, including the $10.4 billion in the budget Gov. Wolf just vetoed.Education Spending Pencil Chart June 2015

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 02:49 PM | Comments

House Votes to Protect Excellent Teachers

JUNE 24, 2015

Seniority-based teacher furloughs may soon become a relic of the past for Pennsylvania public schools.

On Tuesday evening, the state House approved Rep. Stephen Bloom’s HB 805—the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act. The legislation ensures teachers are retained based on their effectiveness, not merely their seniority, in the unfortunate event of furloughs. Teacher quality is measured based on a statewide evaluation system—one endorsed by the teachers’ unions—that currently rates 98.2 percent of teachers as satisfactory.

HB 805 protects Pennsylvania’s “proficient” and “distinguished” teachers from being furloughed in favor of a teacher with more seniority who is rated “needs improvement” or “failing.” In the event two teachers have the same rating, seniority will still serve as the tiebreaker.

Rep. Bloom's legislation passed despite intense lobbying from government unions who placed the interests of 1.8 percent of non-proficient teachers over the needs of every other high-performing teacher in the state—and over the needs of students. 

Attention now turns to the state Senate to approve HB 805. If the legislation passes the Senate, it will be up to Gov. Wolf to prioritize teachers over his biggest campaign contributors and sign the law.  

posted by JAMES PAUL | 09:37 AM | Comments

Devil in the Details for New Funding Formula

JUNE 23, 2015

Much of the reaction to the Basic Education Funding Commission’s final report has been positive—and for good reason. The commission proposed a formula that finally distributes funds based on enrollment and student need.

But a new formula alone is not sufficient to rectify Pennslyvania’s irrational system of distributing state aid to public schools. CF has written and testified about the state’s “hold harmless” provision, which guarantees each school district the same level of state funding it received the previous year. While the policy ostensibly exists to prevent school districts from being harmed by reduced funding, it has, in fact, brought harm and inequity to hundreds of growing districts across the commonwealth.

In order to ensure the year-long funding commission's work produces meaningful policy reform, a sensible transition away from hold harmless is essential. If, for example, the new formula is only applied to new spending—and some $5 billion in education funding remains attached to hold harmless—the broken funding method will remain unscathed.

In its report, the funding commission offered only broad suggestions regarding hold harmless. During a press conference last Thursday, Sen. Pat Browne explained phasing out hold harmless is a “budget decision” that must be tackled by the entire General Assembly.

This morning, the Senate Education Committee advanced SB 910, legislation that will implement the new formula. Unfortunately, SB 910 retains hold harmless for Basic Education spending during the “base year” (which will mean either 2014-15 or 2015-16) and applies the new formula only to future spending.

This is a moderate improvement over the status quo, as explained by Kara Newhouse in Lancaster Online:

In the past, districts were guaranteed at least as much money as they got the year before, and then some. Then the next year, the district would be guaranteed that new amount. And so on.

Doing that every year allowed inequities to snowball.

The commission instead wants to freeze the amount that districts get (either this year or next year) as the guaranteed base.

In other words, SB 910 would put an end to the “snowball effect” of annually resetting hold harmless levels, but it falls considerably short of an ideal outcome. The commission’s formula is rational, equitable, and transparent, which is why applying the formula to the entire Basic Education line item is preferable. 

If lawmakers are hesitant to make substantial reforms in a single budget year, they could distribute a portion of the Basic Education appropriation under the proposed formula over a set time period. The funding commission, in its report, suggested 10 percent over 10 years, but this could be adjusted as lawmakers see fit. The key is to begin phasing in the new formula to as much of the line item as possible, while giving school districts reasonable time to prepare for new funding levels.

The sooner we distribute the bulk of education funding by a student-based formula, the better for Pennsylvania’s public school children.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 10:51 AM | Comments

Government Union Puts Politics Ahead of Teachers

JUNE 18, 2015

One government union is putting its political preferences and self-interest above the interests of public school teachers. Now, teachers are fighting back.

Jane Ladley, who recently retired from teaching after 25 years, Chris Meier, who teaches in the Penn Manor School District, and Linda Misja (pictured), a language teacher at Apollo-Ridge High School, are suing the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) to win back control of their own money.

We brought you Jane and Chris's story last year, but here's a quick synopsis: In Pennsylvania, if public employees demonstrate a bona fide religious objection to compulsory unionism, as Jane, Chris and Linda have, they are not required to pay union dues as a condition of employment. Instead, they can send their dues to an IRS approved charity.

But there's a problem. The PSEA is hijacking the religious objection process, and the Fairness Center (TFC), which is the group representing Jane and Chris in their lawsuit, explains why:

Now, the PSEA is telling Jane and Chris that it has a “policy” against allowing religious objectors to send their money to charities that they choose. According to the PSEA, Jane’s educational charity was too “political,” and Chris’s charity was a conflict of interest” because it represented teachers in separate, unrelated lawsuits against the PSEA.

Chris and Jane are currently waiting for a decision to be handed down by Common Pleas Court. Meanwhile, TFC filed a similar lawsuit against the PSEA today on behalf of Linda Misja, charging the union with the same transgression. Here's the background on Linda's case:

...Linda objected on religious grounds in 2012, the PSEA refused to let Linda send her money to a pro-life pregnancy center that, among other things, provides support to teenage mothers. Then the PSEA refused to allow her to send her money to the National Rifle Association Foundation, the 501(c)(3) charitable arm of the larger organization, which supports firearm safety education across the country.

In these three instances, the PSEA anointed itself the arbiter of what is political and made a calculated decision to put its self-interests ahead of public school teachers. Their intransigence has led to not only two lawsuits, but legislation to protect teachers' rights in the religious objection process.

House Bill 267, sponsored by Representative John Lawrence, would give religious objectors the freedom to choose a charity for their donation. After all, the money belongs to Jane, Chris, and Linda, not the PSEA.

posted by BOB DICK | 05:29 PM | Comments

Audio: A New Solution for Underperforming Public Schools

JUNE 18, 2015

A piece of legislation recently passed the Senate Education Committee that would provide a new solution for underperforming public schools.

CF’s James Paul spoke with WSBA’s Gary Sutton about Senate Bill 6 and how it would rescue thousands of students trapped in schools that–­despite record high spending­–continue to fail.

Schools in the bottom 5 percent of statewide performance would be identified as “intervention schools”. Their school boards would be given more capabilities, such as increased flexibility to employ better teachers and more authority to spend funds efficiently, to improve students’ education.

James also elaborates on the bill’s creation of an Achievement School District (ASD).

The ASD would absorb schools in the lowest 1 percent and provide them with a completely “new school board that has new incentives” rather than continuing with the destructive status quo.

Click here or listen below to hear more.

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

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posted by JONATHAN REGINELLA | 11:03 AM | Comments

School Districts Overwhelmed by Pension Costs

JUNE 18, 2015

Pennsylvania's public sector pension crisis is undeniable

Consider the burden it places on local school districts, whose pension contributions increased from $1.4 billion in 2012-13 to $1.9 billion in 2013-14. In 2008-09, districts spent $562 million on pension contributions; schools have thus seen more than a three-fold increase in only five years.

And these costs will continue rising in coming years.

SD Pension Costs

Take a look at our most recent Policy Memo for more information on education spending trends. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 08:30 AM | Comments

District Reserve Funds Continue to Rise

JUNE 17, 2015

Contrary to claims about budget cuts to public education, Pennsylvania school districts continue to accumulate large reserve funds, up to $4.1 billion in 2013-14. This amounts to more than 15 percent of their total revenue, according to recent figures from the Department of Education, and a $100 million increase over 2012-13.

A school district's fund balance is essentially a rainy-day fund. 

SD Fund Balances 13-14

Take a look at our most recent Policy Memo for more trends in Pennsylvania public education. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 09:58 AM | Comments

Examining State Aid for Public Schools

JUNE 16, 2015

State revenue to school districts reached an all-time high in 2013-14, at $9.7 billion. In part 2 of our week-long series on education finance in the commonwealth, take a look at this chart on state education revenue.

Funding levels slightly declined under Gov. Rendell in 2009-10, as they were supplanted by temporary federal stimulus dollars. However, since 2010-11, state aid has consistently increased. On a per-pupil basis, state taxpayers contribute roughly $5,400, which mirrors the national average.

State Revenue to School District 2015

For a more in-depth look at education spending trends, check out our most recent Policy Memo

posted by JAMES PAUL | 04:48 PM | Comments

Another Year, Another Record High in School Spending

JUNE 15, 2015

Pennsylvania spent $26.1 billion on public schools in 2013-14. According to state data, this amounts to a $600 million increase over the 2012-13 baseline. 

As you can see from the chart below, school spending has steadily increased over the past decade, save for 2011-12 upon the expiration of federal stimulus funds. Contrary to the myth propogated by government employee unions, state funding for public education was not cut in 2011-12. More on that tomorrow. 

SD Spending 13-14

School spending on a per-pupil basis also reached an all-time high in 2013-14, exceeding $15,000 per student. Of course, there are several steps lawmakers can take to more rationally and transparently allocate state education aid, but the broader argument that "schools are underfunded" doesn't align with the facts. 

Take a deeper look at education spending trends in our most recent Policy Memo

posted by JAMES PAUL | 09:19 AM | Comments

A Solution for Persistently Failing Schools

JUNE 12, 2015

Amidst a flurry of hearings on severance taxes, incomes taxes, and pension reform, a piece of legislation with less fanfare advanced with bipartisan support out of the Senate Education Committee. Senate Bill 6 has the potential to rescue thousands of students from persistently underperforming public schools.

Senator Smucker's SB 6 has two major components. First, it would enable school districts to utilize new powers to improve schools in the bottom 5 percent of statewide performance. These schools would be identified as "intervention schools," and local school boards would have enhanced staffing flexibility, as well as the ability to convert the school into a charter.

Most importantly, the legislation creates an Achievement School District (ASD), which could absorb schools in the bottom 1 percent of performance. This is the most transformative aspect of the law. Perpetually failing schools would transfer to the ASD, which has similar powers outlined above. However, the ASD is overseen by a seven-member board appointed by the governor and legislature. This unique management structure provides the right incentives to institute meaningful school reform for students who need it most.  

Achievement school districts are gaining in popularity across the country as a means to turn around chronically underperforming schools. They are perhaps most famous in New Orleans, where a Recovery School District was scaled up after Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, some 93 percent of public school students attend charters. Only 7 percent of schools are currently designated as failing, compared to 62 percent less than a decade ago. And 62 percent of students test at grade level or above, up from 35 percent in 2006.

Similar turnaround school district initiatives exist in Tennessee and Michigan, and they have recently been enacted in Georgia and Nevada.

Education solutions must be more innovative and forward-looking than simply raising taxes—especially given that Pennsylvania education spending is currently at an all-time high. During Tuesday’s hearing on SB 6, Democratic Senator Anthony Williams explained tax hikes over the last fifteen years have not improved the quality of schools in his district.

"Pouring more water into a bucket that has holes in it doesn't put out the fire." Take a look at Sen. Williams' complete remarks:

posted by JAMES PAUL | 03:27 PM | Comments

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