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
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.
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.
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.
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.