Pennsylvania ranks among the nation’s leaders in education spending per student. Although spending levels are high, the system for distributing state funding is outdated. Weighted student funding (WSF) is a method for distributing education dollars that promotes fairness and transparency.
Today, Governor Wolf unveiled his plan to impose a natural gas severance tax on Pennsylvania’s most promising industry to boost funding for public schools. He, unfortunately, rehashed disproven campaign rhetoric on a mythical $3 billion in education funding cuts under his predecessor Gov. Corbett to justify his plan.
In a blow to education reform in Philadelphia, the Commonwealth Court ruled that Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission did not have the power to cancel the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ contract last year, preventing an estimated $200 million from reaching classrooms over the next four years. About the ruling PFT Presiden
Recent Blog Posts
As odd as it might sound, some rural schools could actually be harmed by Gov. Wolf’s efforts to increase education funding by imposing a severance tax on natural gas.
At least one school superintendent sees Wolf's Education Reinvestment Act as more of a threat than a help.
Dr. Kenneth Cuomo, superintendent of the Elk Lake School District in Susquehanna County, says, “The concern is that the tax could be passed on to landowners in the form of post-production fees that are assessed against royalties paid by gas companies”
To address such fears, Wolf’s legislation does include a prohibition on directly passing on the tax to landowners or leaseholders. But Bill desRosiers, a spokesman for Cabot Oil & Gas, notes the prohibition would be contrary to the practices of other states. In the end, simple economics indicates companies will find other ways of passing along the cost of the severance tax.
According to Dr. Cuomo, that's bad news for Elk Lake, because royalties the district receives from three wells—nearly $2 million thus far—could decrease:
That’s revenue for the district and losing it would require us to increase taxes to keep our buildings afloat.
Most of the people who make these proposals don’t live north of Interstate 80 (where much of the state’s gas is produced) and don’t understand their impact.
Apart from skimming royalties from landowners and the school district, the severance tax proposal would diminish the ability of companies to support schools in other ways—such as $50,000 worth of pipe Cabot Oil & Gas contributed to the Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center.
“The pipe was enough to supply our welding program for three years,” reports Dr. Alice Davis, administrative director of the center, which serves up to 500 pupils from seven school districts, along with 200-300 adult students. “Without that contribution, our taxpayers would have had to pay for the pipe.”
Schools being harmed by a natural gas tax is just one of the many unintended consequences of the governor’s education proposals. His approach takes more from the pockets of Pennsylvanians without addressing reforms that can impact the classroom performance far more than money ever could.
Spending more wisely, not just spending more, is the real solution.
What are some solutions to fixing the environment in failing school districts? Providing families with the flexibility in choosing where their children go to school, rewarding the best—not just the most senior—teachers, and allocating funding based on student need would be a great start.
But with his recent budget proposal, Gov. Wolf has shown that he favors spending more, not spending more wisely, on struggling schools.
James Paul, a CF senior policy analyst, compares this strategy to buying a new car and taking it home, only to realize it needs numerous repairs. After demanding answers from the car dealer, would you agree to buy the same exact car—but for even more money?
Listen to James’ interview with WSBA’s Gary Sutton to hear more about the benefits of school choice.
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.
And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.
Much has been made of recent comments from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan regarding school funding in Pennsylvania. According to Duncan, Pennsylvania's families are “being shortchanged when it comes to state and local education funding.”
Several observers pounced on these remarks—particularly the notion that Pennsylvania per-pupil spending in low-income districts is one-third less than in wealthy districts—and used them as justification for higher taxes and greater school spending.
Is it true that Pennsylvania’s low-income students are underfunded? Let’s examine the facts.
Duncan’s comments are based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which organizes school districts into quartiles of family income: low poverty, low-middle poverty, high-middle poverty, and high poverty. (Note that NCES figures exclude costs for construction and debt, as well as federal funds).
In each quartile—even among high poverty districts—Pennsylvania exceeds the national average in spending per student. Put another way: the vast majority of schools in the commonwealth are overfunded. It just so happens that Pennsylvania’s richest districts are particularly overfunded, while low-income districts are slightly overfunded.
Current Education Expenditures, Per-Pupil, 2011-12
The key takeaway from NCES is that affluent Pennsylvania districts raise enormous levels of local taxes to fund their public schools. Hypothetically, the discrepancy in district level spending could be eliminated by capping the local effort in high-income districts. This would make Pennsylvania’s schools appear more “equal,” but it wouldn’t result in better academic performance—nor would it direct more funding to low-income districts.
As Jason Bedrick from the Cato Institute recently explained, the education-industrial complex incessantly lobbies for higher school taxes regardless of student outcomes or fiscal reality. Given that Pennsylvania's schools are better funded than the national average but produce middling achievement, perhaps it’s time to consider other education reforms.
At the state level, reform should include weighted student funding. This revenue neutral approach offers a more rational, transparent school funding mechanism. At the same time, Pennsylvania should protect and reward its most effective teachers, while expanding school choice for families trapped in persistently failing public schools.
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.