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.
The Commonwealth Foundation has long advocated for an education funding formula based on student enrollment and student need. This afternoon, the Basic Education Funding Commission released a report that aligns with those objectives.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently released new expenditure and revenue figures for the 2013-14 school year. This memo presents trends in school spending, revenue, pension contributions, district fund balances, and property tax increases.
Today, Commonwealth Foundation Vice President of Policy Analysis Nathan Benefield will testify before the Senate Environmental Resources Energy Committee and Senate Finance Committee on the impact of Gov. Wolf’s proposed natural gas severance tax.
Recent Blog Posts
An amusing opinion article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes aim at pending legislation that would protect high-performing teachers and change incentives in persistently failing schools. Authors Adam Schott and Kate Shaw have various misleading things to say about both HB 805 and SB 6, but this sentence sums it up:
An increasing number of state policy proposals…[treat] teachers as an interchangeable commodity, rather than highly skilled professionals.
What a peculiar claim about legislation that clearly respects the art of teaching and treats teachers as individuals.
HB 805 stipulates that, in the unfortunate event of furloughs, teachers be retained by virtue of job performance, not merely their years of service in the classroom (seniority). Under HB 805, teachers are evaluated based on the state’s new evaluation system, which currently rates 98.2 percent of teachers as distinguished or proficient. HB 805 would protect a teacher rated “distinguished” in favor of a teacher rated “failing.”
Only 15 percent of the evaluation system is based on test scores from each teacher’s classroom, so crocodile tears about an overreliance on “high-stakes testing” ring hollow. Reasonable people can debate the components of Pennsylvania’s evaluation system—which was endorsed by the state’s largest teachers' union—but teacher quality is closely connected with student learning, and measures of teacher effectiveness are quite reliable.
Above all else, it takes real chutzpah to claim that retaining teachers based on actual job performance treats them as “interchangeable commodities.”
The argument from Schott and Shaw boils down to: “Teachers are much more than widgets, so let’s treat them as widgets.” It is, ironically, opponents of seniority reform who view teachers as interchangeable commodities that cannot be evaluated like other professionals.
Over the weekend, Adam Brandolph of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review penned an excellent story on James Williams, a Mercer County science teacher standing up for his rights against the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).
Williams was long displeased with how the union spent his dues, but he only recently decided to resign his membership. The final straw was learning about the landmark lawsuit filed by Jane Ladley and Chris Meier, who sued Pennsylvania’s largest teachers’ union for violating their basic rights as religious objectors. (Read more about the lawsuit here, here, and here.)
Upon learning about the Ladley/Meier case, Williams took the necessary steps to leave the union and is planning to become a religious objector himself.
The entire Tribune-Review story is worth your time, but here’s a significant section:
[Williams] left his district's union this year when he learned about a lawsuit filed by two Pennsylvania teachers who, like he does, oppose the liberal causes and political candidates on which the Pennsylvania State Education Association spent money.
A 1988 state law allows teachers' unions to require those who opt out of the union to pay a “fair share” payment in lieu of membership dues to compensate the union for the collective bargaining benefit the non-member receives. If someone opts out based on religious grounds, the money is donated to a nonreligious charity agreed upon by both sides.
The teachers sued the PSEA in September when the union refused to remit their money to charities they chose.
“I had been thinking about it for a while but I pulled the trigger when I saw that lawsuit,” Williams said. “The union has an agenda, which I vehemently oppose. They've consistently not done what I think they should be doing.”
Williams joins Jane Ladley, Chris Meier, Linda Misja, and a growing chorus of Pennsylvania teachers who refuse to accept the PSEA's mistreatment. Fortunately, Rep. John Lawrence has moved to correct this injustice. His legislation, HB 267, ensures religious objectors can donate their “fair share fee” to a non-religious organization of their choosing—without interference from a union.
America Works USA, an affiliate of the union-funded Democratic Governors Association, recently launched an ad campaign in support of Gov. Wolf’s effort to raise taxes on middle- and low-income people.
The group, bolstered by a war chest of at least $500,000, took to the airwaves with radio and TV ads slamming the Republican budget and touting Gov. Wolf’s budget as a practical alternative. Regrettably, the ads are chock-full of misinformation. Although the ads aren’t very long, we identified seven erroneous claims, each of which are corrected below.
Claim #1: The Republicans’ budget lets oil and gas drillers “of the hook.”
Reality: According to America Works, Republicans let the natural gas industry of the hook because they refused to impose higher taxes on the industry. Never mind gas drillers already pay taxes applicable to every other Pennsylvania industry ($318 million in taxes since 2009). They also pay an Impact Fee, which generated more than $800 million in revenue since 2011. According to the Independent Fiscal Office, the 2015 Impact Fee is equivalent to a 4.7 percent effective tax rate, placing drillers firmly on the hook.
Claim #2: The Republican budget proposal fails to fund education.
Reality: Putting aside the notion that more education spending produces better academic achievement (there’s no correlation), the Republican budget includes $370 million dollars in additional spending on K-12 education. The budget vetoed by Gov. Wolf would have increased support of public schools to more than $10.4 billion—a new record high—for the 2015-2016 budget year.
Claim #3: The budget deepens the deficit.
Reality: Baked into the “deficit” number is projected increases in government spending. A real deficit is when government spending exceeds tax revenue. There’s no reason why lawmakers can’t slow the growth of spending and reform the cost drivers in the budget to ensure it’s balanced for next year. But if lawmakers must choose between prioritizing all spending and even use one-time revenues or raising taxes, the first option is preferable.
Claim #4: Gov. Wolf is fighting for a middle-class budget that lowers property taxes.
Reality: The governor’s budget raises taxes on Pennsylvanians of all income levels, according to the Independent Fiscal Office. The governor’s promise of property tax relief only provides 30 cents of relief for every dollar in new taxes—with a net increase of $1,400 per family of four—while simply shifting the tax burden and failing to address ballooning local pension payments driving up property taxes.
Claim #5: The governor makes oil and gas companies pay up to fund schools.
Reality: None of the proposed severance tax revenue is dedicated for education spending—though much of it is earmarked for other projects, including corporate welfare for alternative energy companies.
And according to the governor’s own estimates, his income tax and sales tax increases will cost taxpayers several times more than his severance tax. His proposal collects more funding from taxing health care services and day care than from taxing natural gas.
Claim #6: Pennsylvania ranks 44th in state support for education.
Reality: Pennsylvania ranks near the national average in state funding per student. Overall, Pennsylvania ranks 10th in total funding per student—at $15,000, which is nearly $3,000 above the national average. Moreover, total school district spending reached an all-time high in 2013-14, at $26.1 billion. State aid to school districts is also at a record high.
Claim #7: Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state that doesn’t charge oil and gas drillers an extraction tax.
Reality: Pennsylvania has an extraction tax. It’s call an Impact Fee. Additionally, Pennsylvania has one of the highest overall tax burdens of all the oil- and natural gas-producing states. Other states, like Texas and Wyoming, do not have any personal or corporate income tax. Alaska uses its severance tax to give rebates to residents. Any apples-to-apples comparison must consider the total tax burden.
Who are We?
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.