Think there's a problem with Philadelphia's schools? You're not alone. More than half of Philadelphia voters said their schools deserved a D or an F grade in a poll released last month. These problems won't be solved simply with increased funding - that remedy has already been tried. It's time for a new approach.
Would you believe that nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s voters underestimate how much money we spend on schools? Shocking but true, according to a new poll testing the public’s knowledge of school funding facts.
Nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania voters underestimate the amount the state spends on education. And when informed of the facts, support for boosting education funding by hiking taxes dropped significantly.
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Ed Rendell appears more interested in defending his tenure as governor than actually discussing the facts about Philadelphia. The Commonwealth Foundation’s analysis of school spending, enrollment, and staffing trends spanned several administrations. We present the facts—most notably that spending has dramatically increased—regardless of who resides in the governor’s mansion.
Despite that increased investment—more than $1 billion since 2002—Philadelphia public schools continue to leave children unprepared. Four in five students failed to meet proficiency in reading and math in 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card.
These results shouldn’t be surprising, however. A study conducted by the 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education found “either no or very weak association between levels of education expenditures and student achievement” in Pennsylvania.
Rendell goes on to blame Republicans for slashing state education funding. This claim is false. The loss of funding was due to the expiration of temporary federal stimulus money Rendell used to balance the state budget. Today, state education funding in Pennsylvania is at a record high.
The reality facing Philadelphia, though, is that pension costs are consuming more and more of the increase in spending—the result of legislation signed by Rendell and backed by teachers’ union lobbyists to underfund pensions and delay those cost increases until after he left office.
In Philadelphia alone, contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) increased by $133 million over the last 5 years, which is equivalent to the salary of 2,000 school teachers.
The pension crisis is real, and its impact is handcuffing Philadelphia and school districts across the state.
Yesterday, we released a new poll showing just how confused voters are about state education spending levels and the results that money is buying.
When 54% of voters say they would not be personally willing to pay higher taxes to increase education funding, other solutions like pension reform and school choice must be considered.
To discuss the poll details and what can be done to improve our public education system—without raising taxes—CF's Matt Brouillette joined WSBA's The Gary Sutton Show.
The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.
Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.
Despite the rhetoric of "billions of dollars" in cuts from education, school districts across Pennsylvania have been able to increase their reserve funds. School districts had a combined reserve fund balance of nearly $4 billion as of July 2013, a $445 million increase from the prior year.
Jan Murphy of the Patriot-News reports that several districts have fund balances equaling almost a third of their annual budgets. One district—Valley Grove School District—even has a fund reserve of more than 99 percent of its total budget.
As part of the story, the Patriot-News created a database for readers to look up school districts' annual budget and reserve fund balances.
One school superintendent suggested that school fund balances be considered as a factor in state funding—that is, school districts with excessive reserve funds would receive fewer state dollars.
At the Commonwealth Foundation, we've pointed to the growth in school funding reserves, but also outlined a commonsense way to put those funds to use immediately.
Many school districts have built up funding reserves in anticipation of the coming pension crisis—and yes, there is a crisis, and it is getting worse for school districts. Putting money aside for future pension costs makes a lot of sense.
But it would be better to pay off pension obligations now and earn investment income on those fund reserves. If a school district turned their reserves over to the pension system now, however, it would simply be pooled with other funds, and that district would still have to pay the same contribution rate as other districts next year.
To help alleviate our looming pension crisis, lawmakers should look to change state law to allow districts to use reserves to prepay their pension obligations and receive a credit for doing so.
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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.