Gov. Wolf’s 'Schools That Teach' public relations tour and statewide ad campaigns supporting him aren’t telling voters the truth about the budget impasse or the governor's tax proposal.
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.
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On June 30, state lawmakers passed a budget that offers $10.4 billion in state support for public schools. This represents an all-time high—indeed, an increase from last year’s all-time high—and represents a $1 billion increase since 2010-11.
Recently, legislative leaders offered Gov. Wolf a deal that would increase education spending by another $300 million. At the time of this writing, Gov. Wolf is “still considering” this offer. The governor is struggling to take "yes" for an answer.
The chart below compares the budget passed by the General Assembly, the compromise offered by Republican leaders, and Governor Wolf's proposal (which comes with $8 billion annually in new taxes on working families).
Chester Upland School District is ground zero for the most recent example of this hyper-partisan, antiquated philosophy.
Yesterday, the Wolf administration went to court in Delaware County, filing an amended recovery plan for Chester Upland that would slash district payments to charter schools. Officials project $25 million in savings entirely through reduced payments for special education charter students and flat-funding cyber charter students at $5,950 per pupil.
Although Wolf admits that district finances have been “mismanaged for over 25 years,” his solution is to effectively block families from a escaping a school system that has, in the words of Wolf, “failed its students.”
What does failure look in Chester Upland? Two percent of students are proficient in math at Chester High School. Sixteen percent are proficient in reading. The average SAT score for Chester High students is 725 (out of 1600), and the School Performance Profile (SPP) score is 33.5.
In contrast, the three brick and mortar charter schools that receive Chester Upland students have SPP scores of 71.7, 61.5, and 51.3. Parents and students have been fleeing to better-performing schools.
Persistently low academic performance spurred almost 54 percent of Chester students to enroll in charters. Naturally, charter payments assume a significant chunk of the district budget—46 percent in 2014-15.
Although charter students account for more than half of the district’s enrollment, they comprise less than half of the district’s cost.
Chester Upland certainly faces financial challenges, but charters are not the culprit. Amazingly, the revised recovery plan includes no other cost saving measures aside from the punitive action taken against charters.
The illogical Wolf Doctrine on public education is perfectly encapsulated, here, by Education Secretary Pedro Rivera:
“For too long the quality of education a student receives has been dictated by their zip code, and in some cases a child’s education has suffered due to the missteps of adults. Reducing the structural deficit is essential in order to secure financial stability for the district and make the improvements needed to provide Chester Upland students with the opportunities they deserve.”
These remarks are detached from reality, as it is the Wolf administration perpetuating the “education-by-zip code” travesty that has dominated public education for decades. Trapping families in a failed district and arbitrarily punishing students seeking alternative educational options will not produce “Schools that Teach.”
The consequences of Gov. Tom Wolf’s lock-step fealty to public sector union interests are being felt across the state and particularly in York City—where one of Wolf’s first major decisions as governor is generating renewed skepticism among those seeking improvement for the failing school district.
In March, the Wolf administration forced out York City recovery officer David Meckley and withdrew the state’s petition to introduce transformative change to a school system known for financial distress, abysmal academic performance, and astounding rates of violence. Meckley, who sought to implement a charter school model, realized Wolf was wedded to the status quo and would not accept a solution that prioritized students and families over government unions.
What has been happening in York City since the new recovery officer assumed her position?
If a recent editorial from the York Daily Record is any indication, not much. Saylor hired an outside firm to study the school district and provide recommendations. Highlights from the report include the following:
- Teacher attendance dropped to 88 percent in 2014-15 (which is actually lower than student attendance, according to Saylor).
- Barely half of district personnel believe the quality of education delivered by the district is good or excellent. Four percent of teachers believe that education quality is excellent.
- 86 percent of school and central office personnel report that the district does not reward or retain excellent staff.
- 75 percent of school staff do not believe individual schools have sufficient decision making authority over their budgets.
The report also noted that York City’s per pupil funding is on par with the state average. Accordingly, the district may need to “revisit its spending strategy to ensure practices are centered on student learning needs.” However, in June, the teacher’s union voted to accept a new collective bargaining contract that increases pay over the next two years.
And just this week, York City announced it has hired a new “information specialist’’ to create “positive publicity with the outside community.” Editors at the Daily Record describe the hire as unnecessary and an unwise use of limited resources:
Ms. Saylor and other district officials ought to be able to speak for themselves to the media and the community. And they certainly ought to be able to perform effective internal communications—or perhaps they shouldn't be in their current positions.
While he may not be involved the district’s day to day operations, the governor’s fingerprints are all over the situation in York City. The decision to force out Meckley—and, in so doing, jettison meaningful education reform—will have lasting repercussions for families who deserve better than a ten year plan and an information specialist.
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