When government unions engage in labor disputes, they use their power and monopoly to remind the public of the value of their service. However, schoolchildren should never have to bear the brunt of the union’s grievances.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education recently updated files from public schools’ annual financial reports and enrollment reports. Here are six key trends from those data.
Cyber schools currently spend significantly less per student than school districts and only represent about 1% of spending on public education. Discrepancies in cyber school funding are the result of problems in the overall system of public education finance. Reductions to cyber school funding fail to address these issues. Cyber schools ha
Recent Blog Posts
The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) took out full-page, color ads in several major state newspapers last week proclaiming Gov. Corbett "closed neighborhood schools" and laid off teachers in Philadelphia through massive education funding cuts. In the western part of the state the ad warns, "Don’t let Allegheny County be the next Philadelphia."
These ads were grossly misleading. State funding for public schools is at an all-time high. The $1 billion in "cuts" was the expiration of temporary federal stimulus money.
So we ran our own ad today correcting the record.
AFT claims Gov. Corbett and state lawmakers "cut $1 billion" in education spending in the state budget. But the real facts about education spending are something else entirely.
The 2013-14 budget spends nearly $10 billion and the proposed 2014-15 budget calls for $10.1 billion for PreK-12 schools—an all-time high, even exceeding when the state budget included federal stimulus funds. As you can see in the chart below, the AFT's claims are simply untrue.
But the worst part of the AFT's misleading campaign is how it was funded—by teachers' dues collected using taxpayer resources. It’s time unions are held accountable for dishonest political ads they run at the expense of educators and taxpayers across the state.
We should stop this practice which gives government unions an unfair political privilege to engage in politics.
There are many myths circulating about how much Pennsylvania spends on public education. One such myth is that the state government used to provide 50 percent of all revenue for public schools, equaling the local share. State records indicate otherwise.
The state's share of education funding has never been as high as 50 percent. Records from the Pennsylvania Department of Education show that the state's percentage of education revenue reached an all-time high of 45 percent in 1974-75.
While the state share declined from 45 percent to 36 percent of total school district revenue, this was not due to a reduction in state subsidies for education. State aid—adjusted for inflation—increased by 41 percent since 1974. The state share only declined because local tax revenue—also adjusted for inflation—increased 98 percent over that frame.
Moreover, claims about the percentage of education revenue coming from the state is often used to advocate for more state spending.
However, according to NCES data, Pennsylvania’s state aid per student is about the national average, and we rank middle-of-the-pack in state revenue per student. The "state share" is lower because Pennsylvania’s local education revenue is nearly $3,000 per student more than the national average, ranking Pennsylvania 7th in the nation.
Indeed, Pennsylvania taxpayers spend significantly more per student—about $3,000 above the U.S. average—and more than most other states.
|Per Pupil Revenue||Total||Federal||State||Local|
|Source: National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 235.20. Revenues for public elementary and secondary schools, by source of funds and state or jurisdiction: 2010-11, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_235.20.asp|
For years, teachers unions in Pennsylvania have claimed the governor cut $1 billion from schools. But the real story is more complicated. A huge influx of federal stimulus funding expired, a loss school districts and others were aware would happen. At the same time, state funding for public education has increased. See the real facts on school spending below.
1) State spending on public education is at the highest level ever.
Last year, the state legislature approved nearly $10 billion in state funding for PreK-12 public education, an all-time high. In addition, total funding (which includes local funds from property taxes, state and federal funding) continues to exceed $14,000 per student.
2) The “cuts” in the 2011-12 budget for education came entirely from temporary federal stimulus funds that expired.
The money came from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included both direct funding to school districts and money to preserve jobs. When the federal funds expired, Gov Corbett and state lawmakers increased public education funding from state funds to replace some of that amount. Gov. Ed Rendell, in contrast, did the opposite, using federal dollars to increase funding for schools while cutting the funding from state tax dollars.
3) Teachers’ unions and others are using selective numbers to show a cut in school funding.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) cites only the parts of state aid to public schools that have gone down—not the line items that have increased.
For example, when the PSEA says “Basic Education” funding has gone down, it’s counting the little over half of regular education funding that is distributed via a formula to school districts. But the figure excludes items such as special education, early childhood education and nutrition programs.
4) That also means the PSEA isn’t counting pension payments for teachers in education funding.
The PSEA claims pension funding doesn’t go to the classroom, even though it benefits teachers, classroom aides and other school employees who make public education work. The pension line item in the state budget—the state pays districts a bit more than one-half of the required contribution for school employees’ retirements—is among the fastest growing items in the budget and a big reason why state aid has increased. Not counting that increase implies that funding teachers’ pensions doesn’t benefit students.
5) Stimulus funds began affecting education funding a year earlier than the PSEA and some lawmakers claim.
The PSEA and some lawmakers designate Fiscal Year 2008-09 as the “pre-stimulus” starting point, to show how previous levels of education funding were higher than they are today. But federal stimulus funds were part of state spending in that year, even if they weren’t earmarked for education.
While the extra money mostly went towards welfare programs, it allowed Gov. Ed Rendell to cut Medicaid spending from state tax dollars and use those funds to public education instead. He was thus able to increase education spending despite a budget deficit—and it looked like education funding had increased without temporary federal help.
6) School districts have been able to increase their reserve funds, despite claims of major shortfalls.
Yes, that’s right: Across Pennsylvania, public schools managed to grow their “fund balances”—funds to support future spending and rainy day savings—by $300 million last year. The latest figures available show public schools have accumulated $3.5 billion in total reserves. In fact, these reserves have been growing for about a decade, jumping 25 percent in just the last two years.
7) Everyone knew the stimulus funds were temporary.
The question is whether school districts should have budgeted for the lapse, or whether Gov. Tom Corbett and lawmakers should have dramatically increased taxes on Pennsylvanians to replace the stimulus.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania already has the 10th-highest local and state tax burden in the country. And with rising pension payments for teachers and other government workers coming due, and the state already facing a more than $1 billion shortfall in 2014-15, we’re already in a severe financial crunch.
Who are We?
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.
Federal charges of racketeering and arson against several Philadelphia union members, who called themselves The Helpful Union Guys (or T.H.U.G.s) has renewed interest in closing a loophole in state law, exempting parties in a labor dispute from prosecution. Under current law, anyone involved in a labor ...