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 have 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.



Is There a Pension Crisis?

JULY 18, 2014

Public pensions

PolicyBlog readers will be well-familiar with the fact that Pennsyvlania state funding for public schools is at a record high. 

So why do government union leaders and some politicians still repeat a lie about multiple-billion dollars being cut from public education? Simply put, in some cases they refuse to count state funding to school districts for teachers' pension costs as part of education funding.

As the chart below shows, state aid to public schools for pensions has increased more than $1 billion since 2010-11 (this includes a $225 million transfer from the Tobacco Settlement Fund, not counted in the General Fund total).

State Pension Aid to Districts

Note that this $1 billion increase in state pension aid only covers about half of school employees' pension costs. School districts have had to match this increase with a billion dollar increase in payments from local property taxes.

It makes it easier to say that "there isn't a pension crisis" when you completely ignore a dramatic increase of more than $2 billion in public school pension costs. 

Unfortunately, that pension crisis is only going to get worse. Costs will continue to rise over the next few years. The required increases under Act 120 of 2010 are equal to about $900 per household. The costs increase for school districts for required pension payments would be the equivalent of laying off one out of every three teachers in the state.

The fact is this: We are spending more on public education than ever before (see chart below as a reminder of that), but more and more education dollars are going to pay off pension debt created by past political decisions.

State Education Subsidy 2-Color

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 08:56 AM | Comments

Will Higher Taxes and Funding Save Students?

JULY 16, 2014

Philadelphia is in the midst of a crisis. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 80 percent of 4th and 8th grade students did not reach proficiency in math and reading in 2013.

For years, the School District of Philadelphia has been plagued by poor performance and budget challenges. And to address the most recent challenges, some have suggested higher cigarette taxes and more funding as the solution. But raising cigarette taxes, which would disproportionately affect the poor, is not real reform.

Just as a funding mechanism, increasing cigarette taxes proves to be inadequate, as it encourages smuggling, which would mean a loss of sales for businesses and decline in tax revenue for governments

There's also the issue of fairness. For example, say a family in Philadelphia is already sacrificing to put their son through private school. And because both parents are smokers, they would feel the painful effects of the proposed tax increase. Is it fair that they bear an even bigger tax burden due to years of bad public policy decisions? 

Still, don't Philadelphia schools need more funding? It has to come from somewhere, right?

The School District of Philadelphia already spends about $14,000 per student, which is also around the state’s average for per-pupil spending. At approximately $25 billion, overall spending on Pennsylvania public schools is at an all-time high.

Yet, we haven’t seen the results expected from such an enormous investment. In Pennsylvania, nearly three out of five 8th graders are not proficient in math and reading, and according to a Cato Institute analysis, since 1972, SAT scores have slipped, despite a 120 percent increase (adjusted for inflation) in education spending.

Education is the key to a better future for students. This is why it’s critical to push for meaningful education reforms that put parents and students in charge of education.

In Philadelphia, as students languish in violent and failing schools, their quest for a better life becomes much harder. As each year passes without a quality education, they fall further and further behind their peers.

Instead of unfairly taxing individuals to spend more on education, public officials should strongly consider a proven solution to the state’s education woes: school choice. In the end, Philadelphia's school crisis isn't about money. It's about allowing failed policies to continue—with kids paying the price.

posted by BOB DICK | 01:30 PM | Comments

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

State Education Spending at Record High

JULY 8, 2014

The recently passed Pennsylvania state budget sets a new record for state funding for public schools. The chart below illustrates this growth over the years.

The total budgeted for the 2014-15 fiscal year—$10.04 billion—is $290 million more than the prior year. Indeed, in represents an increase of nearly $1 billion since 2011-12 (Governor Corbett's first budget).

It is even higher than years when state tax dollars were supplemented with temporary federal stimulus funds—$400 million more than the combined total in 2010-11 (and $1.5 billion more when just looking at state tax dollars).

State Education Subsidy

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 02:46 PM | Comments

Union Leaders' Lobbying Hurts Teachers, Students

JUNE 16, 2014

Last week we highlighted a California judge who ruled that laws enforcing teacher seniority and tenure were unconstitutional and violated students’ rights to a quality education.

But here in Pennsylvania, public school union leaders still defend these laws. While legislation is moving through the state House—with bipartisan support—to implement the commonsense reform of considering teacher evaluations in furlough decisions, union lobbyists are pulling out all the stops.

The PSEA’s latest lobbying push features the scary headline “Your job security is at risk.” Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has its own lobbying effort, talking about how the bill is “anti-teacher.”

Current seniority and tenure rules hurt younger teachers, regardless of their performance, and undermine the quality of education. Yet union executives continue to cling to the status quo—despite the fact that at a recent hearing, the president of the PSEA admitted he didn’t know how teachers’ themselves felt about the issue.

Indeed, union leaders rarely ask for member input on issues, since they use taxpayer resources to collect their political money rather than collect it directly from members.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 10:48 AM | Comments

Politics Threatens Progress in Pittsburgh

JUNE 13, 2014

Grading Teachers

Results from Pittsburgh's new teacher evaluation system were unveiled today, identifying both excellent teachers and those that need improvement.

The goal of this new evaluation system is to allow the district to reward successful teachers while offering help to struggling teachers. Unfortunately, a delay in approval out of Harrisburg may undermine this program geared toward improving teacher quality.   

In 2009, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation promised a $40 million grant to the Pittsburgh Public Schools to implement this new evaluation system. The grant helped the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) create an innovative and new teacher evaluation tool that uses classroom observation (50%) and student outcomes (50%) to determine teacher performance.

Pittsburgh isn't the only city to see a change. State lawmakers also voted to overhaul the teacher evaluation system statewide, passing Act 82 in 2012. Part of the act included a one year waiver for the Pittsburgh school system to maintain its own evaluation system, which is more rigorous.

However, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has yet to approve Pittsburgh’s evaluation tool for the 2014-2015 school year. If the state fails to grant a waiver, it could threaten the remainder of the $40 million grant.

The evaluation system used by the Pittsburgh Public school system includes the Tripod student survey, which is a "research-based, classroom-level analysis and reporting system" that asks students to give feedback on certain aspects of the classroom such as experience and learning environment. 

The Tripod system is an important, unprecedented method that focuses on the student, and helps PPS to determine the effectiveness of the teacher through the lens of a student.    

The uniqueness of the Pittsburgh Public school evaluation, combining classroom observation with the Tripod student survey, already seems to be having an impact.

In 2011, 83 percent of teachers agreed that classroom observation helped them improve their teaching practices, while 79 percent claimed the observations helped them improve student achievement.

An overwhelming majority of teachers believe the system works, and that the system produces better teachers and improved teaching practices.

posted by EMMA CRISCI | 04:28 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

PA Teacher Speaks Out on Union Issues

MAY 16, 2014

Last Wednesday, CF President Matt Brouillette guest hosted WHP580's Ken Matthews Show in Harrisburg. Matt spent some time talking to Keith Williams, a high school English teacher from New Oxford in rural Adams County, about teachers' unions and politics.

Listen to a clip of their revealing coversation here.

Keith has taught for 17 years and has never been a union member.

But recently, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) negotiated a contract with the school district that made the district an “agency shop” -- which means all those teachers who have opted to not join the union must start paying their “fair share” (which union executives determine, of course) for union representation.

For Keith, this means he has to start paying over $500 each year for something he does not want, to an organization whose politics he opposes, just to keep his job.

As Keith notes, he wouldn’t even have so much of a problem paying for local representation and if his “fair share fees” actually stayed in the community. But much of the money that we taxpayers collect for the unions are shipped off to the state and national organizations to fund their lobbying and political activity.

Meanwhile, a majority of union rank-and-file report that they almost never hear from their state or national leaders who are supposed to be “representing” them.

Later on in the show, a union member calls in to challenge Keith on some of his claims.

Listen to the exchange here.

Check out all three hours in podcast format at WHP580.com:

posted by TOM BAKO | 03:26 PM | Comments

School Spending is the Issue

MAY 9, 2014

My letter to the editor in yesterday's York Daily Record addresses some inaccuracies about education spending in Pennsylvania.

Your editorial on education funding (“Funding formula a good place to start,” May 2) unfortunately gets some facts wrong. For starters, it repeats the myth that the state government provided 50 percent of school districts’ revenue in the 1970s. The truth is, local tax dollars have always exceeded state dollars, with the state share peaking at 45 percent in 1975, according to data from the Pa. Department of Education.

It also notes that the percentage of funding from the state ranks low compared to other states. However, the funding per student mirrors the national average. The reason the state funding percentage is lower is because Pennsylvania’s school districts collect far more in local taxes than other states—$3,000 per student more than the national average.

Overall, Pennsylvania school districts receive more than $15,000 in total revenue per student, ranking 10th in the nation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Voters and lawmakers are calling for property tax relief not because state taxes are too low, but because school spending—contrary to many reports—is exceptionally high. And growing pension costs are pushing education costs even higher. Reigning in such out-of-control state spending is a critical step to addressing the property tax issue.

I addressed these facts about Pennsylvania's state spending on education in a longer post here.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 10:07 AM | Comments

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