Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP)—a nonprofit that invests in a variety of schools across the city—is offering $35 million to the School District of Philadelphia to fund over 11,000 seats in new charter schools. PSP’s grant proposal seeks to eliminate any financial concerns and allow the School Reform Commission (SRC) to focus solely on approving the highest quality applicants.
This stunning development raises hope that Philadelphia families will soon enjoy greater opportunities. House Speaker Mike Turzai continues to support the approval of new charter schools in Philadelphia:
It's up to the [SRC] to meet its obligation to save kids and grant the request of these families to let their kids go to quality charter schools.
Defenders of the educational status-quo were less enthused by PSP’s proposal. Lisa Haver, cofounder of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, urged the SRC to reject the donation:
PSP is very influential in this school district, but it doesn't look out for the best interests of all the students. Schools are hanging by their fingernails to survive - schools that don't have staff, full-time nurses, and full-time librarians. And now, out of the blue, this nonprofit group says, 'Guess what? We have $35 million.'
Given Haver’s view that schools are “hanging by their fingernails to survive,” it’s odd that she opposes a significant infusion of funding.
The majority of PSP’s grant is intended to finance the “stranded costs” incurred by the district when students flee to charter schools. According to PSP’s calculations, these stranded costs amount to approximately $2,000 per student. District advocates claim these costs are closer to $7,000 and recur for multiple years.
In 2012-13, Philadelphia public schools spent over $14,000 per student. It is quite a stretch to claim that half of the district’s per-pupil costs are fixed over the long term. An estimate from the Friedman Foundation finds that fixed costs amount to one-third of total per-pupil education spending. The remaining two-thirds are variable costs that can be adjusted based on enrollment changes.
Although education dollars flow from the school district to charter schools, funding does not "belong" to one system or the other. The dollars "belong" to students who are educated in Philadelphia public schools—be they charter or not. Education funding should always follow the student—not prop up a system.
Surely this $35 million donation can go a long way toward improving education for thousands of Philadelphia families desperate for better, safer schools.
RELATED : EDUCATION, ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, SCHOOL CHOICE
Last week the Bethlehem Area School District approved a new labor contract that will force all teachers—even those who do not want the union's services—to pay the organization hundreds of dollars each year. Shortly after the vote, the Lehigh Valley Times editorial page argued that these so-called "fair share fees" are a good compromise. I responded with a letter arguing that teachers should have the freedom to decide who negotiates their salary.
The Jan. 30 editorial, "Fair share fees allow non-union teacher to have their cake and protest it, too," misses the fact that the Bethlehem Area Education Association's new obligation to represent non-union members such as Richard Coppock was not imposed on the union -- they actively negotiated for it. In other words, the district just allowed the union -- and its related state and national affiliates -- to confiscate Coppock's right to represent himself.
It's absurd that this power-grab is being twisted around to accuse Coppock of "free-riding." Coppock doesn't want something for nothing, he wants the ability to refuse all union benefits. Coppock's rights should not be sacrificed simply because he was in the minority.
The editorial goes on to say Coppock has the option to become a religious objector and, "donate the fee to a non-religious charity of their choosing." But the law actually says the charity must be "agreed upon by the nonmember and the [union]." The difference is more than semantics: Two Pennsylvania teachers are in the midst of lawsuit because the state teachers union has refused to allow their money to go to the non-religious charity of their choice.
Teachers must know their rights. FreetoTeach.org, a project of the Commonwealth Foundation where I work, offers clear and concise resources to let teachers make their own decisions -- a principle that the teachers' unions apparently ignore.
RELATED : EDUCATION, UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, TEACHER UNIONS
Governor Wolf has made some bold promises on his campaign trail, but very soon the campaign rhetoric will meet governing reality.
CF’s President and CEO Matt Brouillette recently discussed Gov. Wolf’s policy agenda and how it will affect the people of Pennsylvania on The Gary Sutton Show.
As Matt points out in this interview, Wolf’s policy agenda of higher taxes, increased spending, and bigger government are “bad policies that have put Pennsylvania in jeopardy” and will not benefit middle- and low-income families.
Rather than creating opportunities for everyone, big government solutions like raising the minimum wage have dishearten aspiring entrepreneurs and potential business owners. As Matt points out, small business owners – or the “little guys” - have trouble establishing themselves due to the barriers erected by a government that “makes it difficult to even enter the marketplace”.
Listen to Matt’s latest interview with Gary Sutton on WSBA 910AM:
The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.
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RELATED : MINIMUM WAGE, TAXATION
What is the ultimate goal of health care reform? Is it to provide all Americans with insurance cards? Or is it to enhance access to quality care at more affordable prices? Debates over health care are notorious for their singular focus on the former, but a new study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University presents a different approach.
Robert Graboyes from Mercatus identifies two sharply contrasting health care visions: the fortress and the frontier.
In the fortress, doctors, hospitals, insurers, and medical manufactures are shielded from competition and granted unique regulatory protections. The fortress—which epitomizes America’s current health care system—stifles innovation, drives up costs, and erects barriers for the most vulnerable to access quality care.
Alternatively, on the frontier, it is understood that high-quality health care requires multiple providers taking risks and competing to offer dynamic new services, medicines, and technologies—all at lower prices. The frontier encourages a spirit of entrepreneurialism that is markedly absent in many of today’s health care markets.
The relevant question is, “How soon will the health care industry experience the dramatic transformations already seen in the modern information technology industry?” In a Frontier world, many of these innovations … could become commonplace within the next five or ten years. In a Fortress world, however, they may take a generation or more.
We must break out of the fortress and advance into the frontier. Take a look at this video from the Mercatus Center that further explains how innovation can save health care.
RELATED : JOBS & ECONOMY, HEALTH CARE
Paycheck protection legislation, known as "Mary’s Law," was officially introduced in the state House of Representatives as HB 238. With the backing of 39 co-sponsors, Mary’s Law seeks to end the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money.
Mary's Law is named after Mary Trometter, a PSEA member from Williamsport who saw the union use not only her dues, but her name in endorsing a candidate she didn't support. You can watch her story here.
Recently the PA Independent highlighted the questionable nature of the PSEA's political activities under current law, noting that the PSEA has been ignoring reporting requirements for 40 years.
Trometter filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in November. Her attorney, David Osborne of The Fairness Center, argues that the NEA letter and PSEA publications supporting Wolf’s candidacy are illegal under a 1970 state law.
The law says unions cannot use organization funds to make contributions in support of a political candidate, and they must report violations to the state within 90 days, he argued.
The PSEA and NEA responded that the letter and pro-Wolf material in a PSEA magazine are not contributions.
The passage of Mary’s Law is a matter of ethics, as Reps Cutler, Evankovich, and Knowles write in a recent op-ed. The bill would ensure that public resources are never used for politics and would empower union members by requiring union officials to directly seek support for political activities.
RELATED : UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, UNION DUES AND POLITICS
In many respects, Pennsylvania is a pioneer of school choice. With 173 charter schools—14 of which are cyber charters—and two scholarship tax credit programs, the commonwealth is the envy of choice advocates across the country. But as we recognize and celebrate National School Choice Week, more can be done to ensure that each Pennsylvania child has the opportunity to reach her full potential.
As Philadelphia's School Reform Commission (SRC) weighs the application of 40 charter schools—many of which have an impressive track record of serving city students—House speaker Mike Turzai is optimistic that multiple new charters will be granted permission to open in Philadelphia:
We are very hopeful that when the final decisions get made that a significant number of the charter applicants are approved.
During the most recent school year, the average Philadelphia charter school outperformed traditional public schools on the Pennsylvania State Performance Profile. What makes this even more impressive is that charter schools spend and receive fewer dollars per student than their district counterparts. Given the academic success of the charter sector, as well as the sizeable demand for schools of choice, the SRC should approve the highest-performing applicants and allow more Philadelphia families to reap the benefits of choice.
In Pennsylvania, school districts are tasked with authorizing new charter applications. This arrangement makes it difficult for even the highest quality charter schools to open new buildings. School districts are fully aware that by approving a new charter school they are essentially approving a new competitor. In order to realign incentives to promote great schools, lawmakers should pursue statewide or university authorizers for charters.
The commonwealth is the first state in the country to enact an education scholarship tax credit aimed at corporations. Thanks to the passage of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program in 2001, more than 430,000 scholarships have been awarded to students from low- and middle-income families seeking better, safer schools.
Scholarship tax credit programs exist in a dozen states, and Pennsylvania is one of only three states to have multiple programs. In 2012, Pennsylvania enacted its second tax credit program—the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). This program is reserved for low-income students residing in the geographic boundaries of the lowest-achieving public schools in Pennsylvania.
In 2013-14, the OSTC provided more than 7,000 scholarships. Legislation passed late last fall streamlined and simplified the application process for both tax credit programs, which should lead to even greater participation in coming years.
The EITC is capped at $100 million—with $60 million reserved specifically for K-12 scholarships—while the OSTC is capped at $50 million. Lawmakers should look to increase these caps and provide more scholarships—at a savings for taxpayers—to students in need.
Education savings accounts (ESA) are another innovative policy for Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider as a complement to the tax credit programs. ESAs, which have been implemented in Arizona and Florida, could allow parents to deposit their tax credit scholarship funds into a savings account that can be spent with more flexibility.
Instead of reserving the funds strictly for scholarships, ESAs allow parents to purchase textbooks, tutoring services, online courses, curriculum materials, standardized tests, educational therapies, and other approved items. Unspent ESA funds roll over from one year to the next and can be eventually used to pay for college tuition. Lawmakers supportive of the EITC and OSTC should look at ESAs as the logical next step for school choice in Pennsylvania.
RELATED : EDUCATION, ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, CYBER SCHOOLS, SCHOOL CHOICE
Michigan teacher Jim Perialas has an unusual story. In 2012 his school, Roscommon Area School District, became the first in decades to decertify (or leave) the state-wide Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the National Education Association (NEA) to form a local-only, independent union.
Jim readily admits he’s not anti-union, “unions do good and bad things . . . but I still think they should play a role in the workplace.” So, why did teachers at Roscommon want to leave the MEA? They were simply frustrated by the undemocratic, expensive, and secretive state union. “We talk about the lack of a voice . . . there is a so-called democratic process, but really it’s not,” explains Jim.
And as Nathan Benefield blogged on this date last year, most teachers’ union members never hear from state and national union officials. It’s no wonder teachers are looking for better options.
Going local wasn’t easy. Jim warns that any district considering the local option needs to be united and prepared to withstand immense pressure from the state union, but the rewards can be worth it.
Today, members of the independent Roscommon Teachers Association have seen their dues decrease from $980 to $600 a year and members still have access to grievance support and other services. Most importantly, members have local control and can clearly see how their money is being spent.
Hear about the challenges Jim and his fellow teachers faced during the decertification process in our latest podcast.
RELATED : EDUCATION, TEACHER UNIONS
Gov. Tom Wolf's first week in office included several moves to paint a picture of ethics and transparency in state government.
First Wolf issued executive orders banning executive staff from accepting gifts, and forbidding no-bid legal contracts. Barry Kauffman, Pennsylvania head of the liberal group Common Cause says this is about ending conflict of interest:
"So, you give a $50,000 campaign contribution and you get a $2 million reward through a no-bid contract … That's a heck of a return on the investment."
Then, in a controversial move to terminate a Corbett appointee, Wolf defends his action on grounds of openness and transparency:
"We need to be as ethical as we can and be as transparent as we can. To me the way this process was done was anything but open and politicized. What I'm concerned with is a less than open process." …
"We ought to do this right and find the best possible person for this job and not make this a backroom deal that so often erodes trust in government."
But as I noted in a recent op-ed, Gov. Wolf will soon be facing his own potential conflict of interest, when he negotiates contracts with government union leaders.
These contracts, which include salary and benefit provisions, cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Moreover, they can include provisions where the state, at taxpayer expense, will collect the political money that is given to candidates—like Governor Wolf himself.
During the 2014 election, government unions contributed $3.4 million to the Wolf campaign—far more than the paltry contributions Barry Kauffman is concerned about—and spent millions more on independent expenditures through Super-PACs.
By no means should any politician be able to negotiate over the collection of his own campaign contributions.
We hope Governor Wolf will stick to his pledge of transparency and make these contract negotiations open to the public rather than a backroom deal. And we look forward to working with Gov. Wolf and advocates like Barry Kauffman toward reforms that reduce the conflict of interest when negotiating contracts with political donors.
RELATED : ACCOUNTABLE GOVERNMENT, UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, UNION DUES AND POLITICS
“I’ve got products in the pipeline that I can’t sell, because they didn’t get approved,” said Mike Gonze, president of Dreadnought Wines in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article that perfectly encapsulates why state government should not be in the booze business.
In the article, Bill Toland details how the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) had to place a moratorium on special liquor orders (SLOs) because they were short on staff. In this instance, short on staff means losing two of four data-entry employees in the PLCB's special liquor order processing unit.
If you're wondering how losing two employees could cause a backlog, and headaches for entrepreneurs, here's a look at how the PLCB handles SLOs:
The process works like this: A vendor finds a new wine or spirit and wants to distribute it to buyers in Pennsylvania. First, the vendor must ask the state to approve the new item. Once that item is approved—a process that used to take a few weeks but now is taking several months—an individual buyer or a restaurant can order it by calling the PLCB’s special purchases division, or by stopping by a state store to place the special liquor order in person.
After the order has been made—some vendors require a minimum order of six bottles—the vendor sells the product to the state, which applies its own price markup and re-sells the item to the end buyer and delivers it to a wine and spirits store for pickup.
It’s a complicated process, complicated further by the slowdown. Small vendors who don’t represent or import high-volume wines and spirits rely on the special liquor order process for much, if not all, of their sales traffic.
To state the obvious, our booze monopoly has limitations that consistently fail entrepreneurs and consumers. But the news isn't all bad.
After receiving some pressure from those affected by the decision, the PLCB decided to end its moratorium on new SLOs. Yet, this decision does not solve the underlying problem: the government’s inability to efficiently manage a business.
Losing two state employees should not have serious repercussions for numerous businesses and their patrons. Imagine if a private company told customers they had to put a hold on all orders. It wouldn’t be in business for very long. The same can't be said for the PLCB. Despite the Board's less than stellar operation, it remains with us today.
Naturally, many will tout "modernization" as a solution to the PLCB's innumerable problems. But recent modernization efforts have been both futile and expensive. A case in point is the wine kiosk program. A purportedly “free” initiative, the program now has a price tag of $300,000 due to legal costs, according to Kari Andren of the Tribune-Review.
The only way to avoid such expensive mistakes, and fix our outmoded system, is through full privatization. That means turning over the retail and wholesale side of liquor sales to the private sector, which would end the bureaucratic backlog hampering businesses.
RELATED : PRIVATIZATION, LIQUOR STORE PRIVATIZATION
Unprecedented reductions in the prison population, $69.9 million in taxpayer savings, and lower recidivism rates all indicate that the 2012 corrections reforms are working.
Earlier this month Don Gilliland over at the Tribune Review chronicled some of the big accomplishments of the two-year-old initiative to get smart on crime:
The drop in prison population in 2014 'was the largest one-year drop in our population since 1971, and only the fourth time in the past 40 years that our population has shown an annual decrease, rather than an increase,' said Bret Bucklen, Corrections' director of planning, research and statistics.
The state ended the calendar year with 50,756 inmates. Four years ago, the prison population was expected to top more than 56,000 inmates by the end of 2014.
My colleague Nate Benefield points out that fewer prisoners means no new guards to hire, no new prisons to build and no need to pay other states to board our prisoners (which we did in 2009). All of those developments mean big savings for taxpayers.
The drop in inmates avoided approximately $69.9 million in costs in 2014 alone, and a total of $222 million during Corbett's four-year tenure, according to estimates from the department.
Overall, the corrections budget for 2015-16 is still set to increase, thanks to rising pension costs for corrections officers, but the overall fiscal situation is much more manageable today thanks to the actions taken two years ago.
And the final bit of good news? Governor Wolf's decision to retain Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel indicates the reforms will continue improve both the quality and cost-efficiency of our prison system.
RELATED : TAXES & SPENDING, PENNSYLVANIA STATE BUDGET, CRIMINAL JUSTICE
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