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.
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.
“I want to put more education dollars in our classrooms, not our school buses,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, while releasing an analysis of 19 school districts that exceeded their state busing allowance.
According to the report, 95% of overspending districts do not make use of competitive bidding. DePasquale says it’s time to make contract bidding for transportation services mandatory:
Some school districts simply don’t believe what the audits showed. In fact, six of the 19 districts indicate either in response to their audit or in their action, that would be Scranton, that they have no intention of seeking bids for transportation services. Even though the audits showed, and they agreed, that they were paying too much. . . they offer some type of justification as to why they don’t seek competitive bids. It will range from well there isn’t any competition out there, it’s not a requirement. And the list goes on and on and on. And I just view them as lame excuse, after lame excuse, after lame excuse.
DePasquale indicates school districts could save nearly $55 million without raising taxes or cutting programs. Making use of competitive bidding to save public funds should be standard operating procedure. This is a critical step school boards must take to ensure education dollars are spent in the classroom, where they belong.
Teacher Linda Misja is a religious objector to unionism, and as such, can donate the equivalent of her fair share fee--otherwise owed to the union--to charity. But four years ago, the Pennsylvania State Education Association rejected Linda's charity of choice and instead has been holding her money in a union-controlled escrow account.
Today, the House State Government Committee voted in favor of HB 267 to protect religious objectors, like Linda, by eliminating a legal loophole that lets union leaders roadblock employees’ charitable contributions.
Under current law, public employees who object to union membership on religious grounds must donate the equivalent of their “fair share” fee, otherwise owed the union, to a non-religious charity they and the union agree upon. The PSEA, however, has repeatedly rejected teachers’ charities of choice simply because they don’t support the union’s political ideology.
Yet, a list of charities pre-approved by the union spent $27 million on political activity, according to the Fairness Center, which has filed lawsuits against the PSEA on behalf of Linda and two other Pennsylvania teachers.
Unfortunately, the law gives no clear instructions in the event that a union refuses to accept the employee’s charity of choice. If a dispute ensues, the money may be placed in a union-controlled escrow account indefinitely.
HB 267, sponsored by Rep. John Lawrence, would protect the right of religious objectors to give their money to a recognized 501(c)3 of their choosing--even if it doesn't align with the ideology of the PSEA.
CF President and CEO Matt Brouillette explains the treatment of religious objectors is just one more instance of teacher unions putting their interest before the interests of teachers:
Government unions already enjoy the perk of using taxpayer funded payroll systems to collect their union dues, which they then use for political purposes. And unions already trap their members, letting them leave the union only during short windows of time. As if this weren’t enough, union leaders also want to control nonmembers’ paychecks.
Today’s vote is an important first step in protecting the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania’s public employees.
Such a believer is Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney in universal preschool that he supports a punitive tax on low-income residents to pay for it. During his stint on City Council, Kenney twice voted against soda taxes—but now, as mayor, Kenney favors a 3-cents-per-ounce sugary drink tax.
Although Kenney maintains a soda tax will only hit corporations, the experience in Berkeley, California—the lone American city to enact a sugary drink tax—tells a different story. A University of California-Berkeley study found that 50 to 70 percent of the tax is passed on to consumers.
Kenney estimates raising taxes on low-income residents could generate $400 million in new revenue over the next five years—with $256 million earmarked for universal pre-K.
Does publicly-funded preschool have a good track record in other cities? Not exactly. The evidence on pre-K effectiveness is mixed, according to a report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) which examines the body of research on early childhood education.
Children enrolled in universal pre-K often see no significant learning gains by the time they reach third grade, compared to students not enrolled in pre-K. This was the experience in Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K Program, as well as the Head Start Impact Study, where students not enrolled in preschool caught up to their preschooled peers by third grade.
From the “Key Findings” section of the Head Start Impact Study:
There were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices. The few impacts that were found did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children.
Other studies purporting to show “pre-K works” are narrow in scope. For example, the Perry Preschool Program, commonly cited by defenders of universal pre-K, only studied 123 students. It also included weekly home visits by teachers to participating families—which would be nearly impossible to scale up on a city-wide basis across Philadelphia.
To recap: the most prominent item on Kenney's first-year agenda is a large tax on low-income Philadelphians to fund a program with poor outcomes in other cities.
What’s not to like?
In a crucial victory for both students and teachers, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act passed the Senate this afternoon with a vote of 26 to 22.
HB 805, championed by Rep. Stephen Bloom, provides that public school teachers are retained based on effectiveness in the classroom—not merely seniority—in the unfortunate event of furloughs. Today’s passage ensures Pennsylvania’s best teachers remain in the classroom, helping every child reach their maximum potential.
Reform to rigid seniority mandates is long overdue in the commonwealth. A strict, seniority-based system punishes young, effective teachers who excel in the classroom but have not racked up sufficient service time. This is plainly unfair. Every teacher should be evaluated based on their talents as educators, not just their years of service.
That’s why HB 805 is so important. The legislation now moves to Gov. Tom Wolf, whose options are clear: Side with the teachers’ unions which oppose the bill, or side with public school students and excellent teachers—both of whom stand to gain tremendously from the governor’s signature.
Sounds like a no-brainer.
It’s safe to assume Governor Tom Wolf and President Barack Obama agree on many policy issues. But when it comes to public charter schools, Wolf and Obama are worlds apart.
The president recently issued a proclamation honoring May 1 through May 7 as National Charter Schools Week. In his statement, Obama explained the important role charters play in America’s education system:
Supporting some of our Nation's underserved communities, [charters] can ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America's young people while finding new ways of educating them and equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed. With the flexibility to develop new methods for educating our youth, and to develop remedies that could help underperforming schools, these innovative and autonomous public schools often offer lessons that can be applied in other institutions of learning across our country, including in traditional public schools.
Although charter schools are lifelines for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania families, Gov. Wolf’s policies are decidedly hostile to charter students. Consider his actions since assuming office:
- Last March, Wolf removed Bill Green as chairman of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission (SRC) after the SRC approved merely 5 of 39 applicants from new charter schools. This was a clear message that even tepid support for charters will not be tolerated—and it prompted a lawsuit from Green seeking to regain his position as chair. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer—not exactly a bastion of school choice ideology—Green has a strong case.
- Wolf’s budget proposals in 2015 and 2016 each includes massive cuts to cyber charter schools—reducing their revenue by one-third—and deny all charters the right to save new funds in their “rainy day” reserves.
- Wolf undermined the recovery plan in York City School District, effectively forcing out the district’s chief recovery officer as retribution for his support of charter schools.
- Last summer, Wolf attempted to balance Chester Upland’s budget on the backs of special education charter students. Chester students are otherwise relegated to a school system Wolf admits “failed its students” and has been “mismanaged for over 25 years.”
A recent poll from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools finds nearly 8 in 10 surveyed support parents being able to choose their child’s public school. Over half of parents surveyed who are supportive of charter schools cited lack of access as the main reason they don’t send their child to a charter.
Perhaps Gov. Wolf should pay heed to the thousands of families benefiting from charter schools—not to mention President Obama—and rethink his opposition to these effective educational options.
A recent report from ABC 27 asks: “Will lawmakers stick with new education funding formula next year?” At issue is whether Pennsylvania’s student-based formula will be retained in future state budgets. The ABC story raises an important concern—but it slightly misses the mark.
Here’s the question we should be asking: Will lawmakers stick with the new formula and ensure the formula is applied to all funding above 2014-15 levels?
The 2015-16 budget includes $150 million in new Basic Education spending. This funding will be dispersed to school districts based on a formula that accounts for enrollment—which is undeniably a positive step forward.
But the formula only applies to 3 percent of Basic Education funding, the largest line item in the education budget. The other 97 percent is restricted by Pennsylvania’s “hold harmless” provision, which guarantees each district receive no fewer education dollars than it received the previous year—regardless of changes in enrollment.
It is crucial that lawmakers do not apply hold harmless to the $150 million appropriated in 2015-16. Should the legislature increase Basic Education funding in 2016-17, the new formula should apply to all funding above 2014-15 levels, not merely the increase appropriated in 2016-17.
Thanks to hold harmless, districts with declining enrollment received more than three times the state funding per student than growing districts since 1996. Until the student-based formula is applied to a larger portion of the Basic Education line item, hundreds of school districts will continue to be treated unfairly.
Late on Friday afternoon, Gov. Tom Wolf quietly announced the fiscal code will become law without his signature. This significant development closes the door on a tumultuous year of state budget politics—and represents an important victory for public and private school children.
Just last month Wolf opted to veto the fiscal code, which included a fair funding formula for education spending, language authorizing businesses to receive tax credits for their donations to private school scholarship organizations, and state funding reimbursing school districts for construction and renovation costs.
Lawmakers responded to the governor's veto by passing a stripped-down version of the fiscal code—this time with strong bipartisan support and veto-proof majorities. Apparently Wolf saw the writing on the wall and decided to refrain from yet another veto.
Thanks to passage of the fiscal code, education spending above 2014-15 levels will be distributed through a rational formula that accounts for student enrollment. This formula includes recommendations presented by CF in testimony to the Basic Education Funding Commission.
Ideally, the formula would apply to the entire Basic Education line item—not only the new education spending—but the fiscal code remains a step in the right direction. Certainly, the formula is an improvement over Wolf’s preferred funding scheme which funneled millions to Philadelphia, Chester-Upland, and Wilkinsburg at the expense of 423 other districts.
Further, the finalized fiscal code allows businesses that made donations to the state’s popular scholarship tax credit programs to utilize their tax credits in either 2015 or 2016. Recall that last year the Wolf administration put a freeze on the scholarship programs—claiming student hostages and causing confusion for participating businesses. The technical amendment in the code will reduce administrative headaches for businesses and allow more students to receive scholarships.
A no-tax increase state budget, combined with a fiscal code that protects students, is a crucial victory for families and businesses in the commonwealth.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) empower parents to personalize the academic experience for their children, as CF explains in a recent policy brief. But ESAs are about more than school choice.
They are changing lives for families in need.
ESAs have only existed for a short time—enacted in 2011 in Arizona and 2014 in Florida. But the stories of children served—and saved—by these flexible spending accounts are growing by the dozens.
Jordan Visser, a nine-year-old in Arizona diagnosed with cerebral palsy and dyslexia, was one of the first children to benefit from an ESA. Thanks to his ESA, Jordan receives more individual time with a reading teacher for the visually impaired, as well as his physical therapist:
When Katie Swingle’s son, Gregory, was eighteen months old, doctors worried that Gregory’s autism would prevent him from being able to speak. But thanks to Florida’s ESA program, seven-year-old Gregory is not only speaking, he’s writing in cursive. Watch Gregory’s mother describe the impact of ESAs on her family:
Consider Max Ashton, an eighteen-year-old in Arizona born legally blind, who used the ESA funding for specialized education and college tuition:
Eighteen-year-old Max Ashton is an ESA recipient in Arizona. Max is an exceedingly bright and ambitious young man. He was also born legally blind and has additional needs in school. This is why, when given the option to use an ESA in 2011, Max’s parents jumped at the chance. Marc Ashton, Max’s father, said of the decision:
A blind student in Arizona gets about $21,000 dollars per year to educate that student. We took 90 percent of that, paid for Max to get the best education in Arizona—the best education in Arizona—plus all his Braille, all his technology, and then there was still money left over—still money left over—to put toward his college [tuition]. And so he is going to be able to go on to Loyola Marymount University…and do extremely well, because we were able to save money even sending him to the best school in Arizona over what the state would normally pay for.
ESAs were also life-changing for Kasey Locke, a six-year-old diagnosed with autism who was not best-served by the local public school:
Rebecca Locke was frustrated with her daughter Kasey’s academic progress. Six-year-old Kasey is autistic, and when she started kindergarten at the local public school, her parents worked with school officials to incorporate a new learning method, applied behavioral analysis (ABA), into Kasey’s school work. “We were looking for different modes of treatment for her and came upon applied behavioral analysis, and that’s the only treatment that’s been empirically shown to cause improvement.”
But her parents were frustrated because Kasey’s school couldn’t incorporate ABA methods into her full school day. It really wasn’t the school’s focus to use this type of treatment. “We did look into private schooling, but there was no way we could financially reach that.”
Then, when Arizona passed educational savings accounts into law, “it was almost too good to be true” for the Lockes. With an education savings account, Kasey’s portion of state education funding would be deposited into an account her parents could use for any educational services.
The education savings account has been life-changing for Kasey, who now attends Chrysalis Academy, a private school that incorporates ABA tools. Recently, Kasey visited her speech therapist, who was “amazed” with Kasey’s progress. Her parents say the education savings account has been “a huge success for us.”
The experiences of Jordan, Gregory, Max, and Kasey must be replicated for all Pennsylvania families seeking the same type of educational opportunity. Everyone deserves access to this life-changing program.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) empower parents to design the best educational experience for their children.
How do they work? Funding otherwise earmarked for K-12 education is deposited into an account controlled by parents and supervised by the state. These funds may be spent on a variety of educational services, including private school tuition, tutoring, online programs, transportation, textbooks, standardized test fees, and therapy for students with disabilities.
ESAs are changing lives for students in need. Consider the story of 4-year-old Elias from Arizona, the first of five states to enact this innovative program.
When Elias turned 4 months old, his mom, Holland, knew something was wrong. Holland explained he needed to be held constantly, and while most babies do not sleep through the night, Elias’s discomfort was troubling.
After months of research and doctor visits, Holland discovered that Elias had symptoms on the autism spectrum. He would need 20-40 hours per week of individual therapies to help him function each day.
When he was old enough to attend school in Arizona, Holland said that Elias’s educational needs were diverse. Along with autism, he had hyperlexia, a precocious reading ability.
In 2011, Holland and Elias applied for an education savings account. Arizona was the first state to adopt the accounts, and the state deposits public funds in a bank account that Holland used to pay for Elias’s education needs. The accounts allowed Holland to pay for education therapies, school textbooks, and private school tuition.
The accounts’ flexibility has helped Holland find a host of quality services for Elias. Holland said that Elias had an adapted schedule that allowed him to attend school half-time to work on academics, social interaction, and classroom etiquette. The other half of his school week was spent attending speech, occupational, physical, and music therapies that his doctor prescribed.
Unlike vouchers or tax credit scholarships, which can be used only for private school tuition, ESA funds can be spent on multiple educational services. With an ESA, parents are no longer limited by the selection of nearby brick-and-mortar schools. Instead, parents have the freedom to customize the best learning environment for their child.
School choice is popular in the commonwealth, with upwards of 120,000 charter students and 45,000 tax credit scholarship recipients. But demand exceeds supply for affordable, high-quality educational options. Thousands of Pennsylvania students are stranded on waitlists for charter schools. Tax credit scholarships are limited by the caps on business donations. ESAs are the next step Pennsylvania students and families deserve.
Read more about ESAs in CF’s most recent policy brief.
Matt Brouillette pointed out in his latest commentary that Gov. Wolf is taking a "lone-wolf" approach to governing. The latest example is his unilateral action to distribute school funding according to his own whims.
As James Paul noted, Wolf created his own scheme for doling out school funds, ignoring the bipartisan basic education funding commission's recommendations from December.
To stop Wolf from acting alone, the legislature included language in its latest budget that prohibits the distribution of new funds until a new funding formula is adopted.
That budget—which Gov. Wolf let become law without his signature—says the increase in funding “may not be expended until enabling legislation to distribute funding for payment of basic education funding for the 2015-2016 fiscal year is enacted.”
Wolf is completely ignoring the law, and the legislature, to do his own thing.
Sen. Jake Corman put it best, in talking to Capitolwire (paywall):
"The General Appropriations bill was very clear that he could not drive out the new money without a formula, and he vetoed that formula," Corman said. "For him to come up with some cockamamie concoction that the money he blue-lined in December was the old money and he kept the new money - that doesn't stand on the face of it."
Wolf's “cockamamie concoction” rewards just a handful of school districts. Four districts—Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chester-Upland, and Wilkinsburg—get 50 percent of the new funding.
A whopping 428 school districts—or 85 percent of all school districts—get less funding under Wolf’s concoction than under the bipartisan funding formula.
This formula looks at students to offer a "weighted student funding" model, rather than letting politics and past enrollment dictate current funding decisions.
For the full impact of Wolf's education funding concoction, check out our
For the full impact of Wolf's education funding concoction, check out oursortable, searchable database comparing school districts' funding increases under Wolf's plan and under the bipartisan funding formula.
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