Education Spending




Recent Issues

Student Funding Reform

FEBRUARY 17, 2015 | Policy Points by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION

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 Although spending levels are high, the system for distributing state funding is outdated.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.  

Wolf’s Gas Tax Won’t Help Students, but Will Kill Their Job Opportunities

FEBRUARY 11, 2015 | News Availability by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION

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.

Philly Classrooms Out $200 Million, PFT Declares Victory

JANUARY 22, 2015 | News Availability by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION

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

Spending More, or Spending More Wisely?

MARCH 2, 2015

When you purchase a good or service—be it a cheeseburger, a pair of shoes, or a car wash—how do you evaluate its quality? Do you consider the outputs—whether the service lived up to its billing and satisfied your demand—or do you focus solely on inputs—how much money was spent to create the good?

In the realm of public education, inputs are king while outputs are largely ignored. Education advocates typically focus solely on dollars spent instead of academic progress. Accordingly, it’s no surprise that education spending continues to steadily increase while achievement stagnates.

Can you think of any other industry or enterprise that is judged on inputs, instead of results?

This singular emphasis on inputs is exemplified in a proposal from the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, which seeks an additional $3.6 billion in state education spending over the next eight years. Given the Commonwealth’s financial outlook, this proposal should be a non-starter.

A massive spending increase is not a means to improve educational quality; it is a means to boost educational inputs. Higher-quality schools require a different approach—one that expands choice, protects and rewards the best teachers, and empowers local school leaders.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding—comprising a few dozen union, business, and issue advocacy groups—seeks to influence Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission, a body of lawmakers and state officials that will offer recommendations to the General Assembly in the next few months.

The purpose of the Funding Commission is to develop a more rational, equitable method to distribute current funding levels. It is not tasked with recommending higher funding levels—let alone a 63 percent increase in the Basic Education subsidy.

Commission member Rep. Donna Oberlander said as much last August:

This Commission’s charge is not to study so called adequate levels of basic education funding. The responsibility of determining a funding level belongs to the General Assembly and is based each year on overall state revenues. This Commission cannot tie the General Assembly to funding targets.

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding did embrace elements of weighted student funding (WSF), which, in a vaccuum, is a good thing. The Commonwealth Foundation has long advocated for WSF as a solution to Pennsylvania’s outdated education funding system—but WSF should be implemented in a revenue-neutral fashion. Instead of a $3.6 billion tax increase, pure WSF distributes current funding levels more equitably and transparently.

Above all else, WSF ensures that state dollars truly follow each student. Currently, if a Pennsylvania student moves from one district to another, state funding does not follow the child to her new school. This must change, if Pennsylvania is to begin to funding students instead of systems. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 05:00 PM | Comments

Five Ways Dollars Are Kept Out of Philadelphia Classrooms

JANUARY 22, 2015

The school district of Philadelphia saw a $1 billion increase in revenue over the past decade, even as enrollment declined. Yet many claim there isn't enough funding for basic classrooms supplies. The question is: Where is the money going if not into the classroom?

1. Union Leader Salaries

The PFT forces teachers to pay more than $700 for the average teacher each year in dues (or more than $500 in fair share fees to keep their jobs). Teachers never see that money as it is deducted from their paycheck just like taxes. 

At the same time, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, makes an astounding $550,000 a year off of teachers' dues. In fact, AFT has more than 200 staffers making more than $100,000 in compensation, according to the Center for Union Facts

Without such high dues, teachers could keep more of their salary and higher take home pay would help attract high quality teachers.

2. Political Spending

Philadelphia teacher union dues are being spent on political ads at the rate of $70,000 per minute. PFT ran two 30-second TV ads during an Eagles football game attacking Governor Corbett and select lawmakers. The cost of those two ads alone were $35,000 each, according to records filed with the FCC.

Nationally, the AFT spent more money on elections this year than ever before, including a gift of $500,000 from teachers’ union dues to fund attack ads via a “SuperPAC.” This money could buy countless classroom supplies the union claims Philadelphia schools lack. The teacher’s union’s actions indicate leadership is more concerned with playing politics than providing resources to struggling teachers and students.

3. Administrative Costs

The School District of Philadelphia has among the highest administrative costs in the state. In 2012-13, Philadelphia had a higher administrator to student ratio than the average Pennsylvania school district. In addition, the average administrator salary is $129,573, which ranks in the top 25 most generous school districts in Pennsylvania. These high overhead costs focus resources on adults instead of kids.

4. Health Care Costs

This past fall, for the first time, Philadelphia teachers were asked to contribute a portion of their salary towards health care premiums, a request made of teachers in every other Pennsylvania school district save one. With this change, approximately $54 million could go directly to classrooms if teachers begin to contribute just a percentage of their own health care costs. The School Reform Commission proposed teachers pay between 5 and 13 percent of their health care costs. That is about half of the 23 percent the average Pennsylvanian pays towards employer sponsored family coverage.

Former Governor Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board all agree with the necessity for reasonable concessions—but the PFT refuses to compromise. Without these savings, more teacher layoffs will be necessary.

5. PFT Health and Welfare Fund

Apart from health insurance, the school district contributes to the PFT Health and Welfare Fund. This entity, controlled by the PFT, provides supplemental benefits, such as dental and vision, along with a wide variety of other programs, such as term life insurance and an annual educational conference.

By simply ending the PFT’s monopoly control over these benefits, and selecting a high-quality benefit provider in the marketplace, the school district would save an estimated $22.4 million. Teachers will still receive these benefits with the savings would being directed back into the classroom for the benefit of students.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 00:45 PM | Comments

Harmed by "Hold Harmless"

DECEMBER 15, 2014

There are few more egregious examples of political doublespeak than Pennsylvania’s “hold harmless” provision for state education funding.

Hold harmless guarantees each school district receives no fewer state education dollars than it received the previous year—regardless of changes in district enrollment. This may sound appealing in theory, but it is actually quite problematic in practice. While the policy ostensibly exists to prevent school districts from being harmed by reduced funding, it has, in fact, brought real harm and inequity to hundreds of districts across the commonwealth.

Consider that during the 2012-13 school year, state revenue per student in Pennsylvania's 20 fastest-growing districts was slightly more than $3,000. In contrast, state revenue per student among those districts with the largest decreases in enrollment was nearly $10,000. Put another way, school districts with declining enrollment received more than three times the state funding per student than growing districts.

20 Fastest Growing PA Districts 1996-2013

District

County

Growth

2013 State
Revenue Per Student

Garnet Valley

Delaware

119%

$2,877.47

Perkiomen Valley

Montgomery

89%

$2,826.65

South Fayette Township

Allegheny

86%

$2,698.31

Spring-Ford Area

Montgomery

83%

$2,764.82

Pine-Richland

Allegheny

74%

$2,686.28

New Hope-Solebury

Bucks

61%

$2,777.26

Central York

York

60%

$2,555.85

Oxford Area

Chester

56%

$4,538.11

Avon Grove

Chester

53%

$4,340.74

Daniel Boone Area

Berks

53%

$4,282.96

Mars Area

Butler

52%

$3,217.76

Lower Moreland Twn

Montgomery

48%

$2,888.73

Kennett Consolidated

Chester

47%

$2,842.80

Jim Thorpe Area

Carbon

45%

$2,885.29

Central Bucks

Bucks

45%

$2,401.97

Tredyffrin-Easttown

Chester

44%

$2,211.83

Owen J Roberts

Chester

41%

$3,120.39

Peters Township

Washington

40%

$2,608.30

Wilson

Berks

39%

$2,784.51

Northeastern York

York

38%

$4,602.52

Average Top 20

59%

$3,095.63

20 Fastest Shrinking PA Districts 1996-2013

District

County

Growth

2013 State
Revenue Per Student

McGuffey

Washington

-30%

$7,979.42

Sullivan County

Sullivan

-30%

$6,208.08

Southeastern Greene

Greene

-31%

$11,399.85

Warren County

Warren

-31%

$7,881.19

Jeannette City

Westmoreland

-32%

$9,242.87

Ligonier Valley

Westmoreland

-32%

$5,611.11

Susquehanna Community

Susquehanna

-32%

$10,778.41

Union

Clarion

-32%

$11,529.47

Punxsutawney Area

Jefferson

-32%

$9,524.06

Austin Area

Potter

-32%

$11,885.68

Galeton Area

Potter

-33%

$7,903.20

Cranberry Area

Venango

-33%

$8,525.50

Farrell Area

Mercer

-33%

$12,197.76

Marion Center Area

Indiana

-34%

$10,288.15

Northern Potter

Potter

-35%

$10,904.21

Allegheny-Clarion Valley

Clarion

-35%

$11,479.26

Purchase Line

Indiana

-35%

$12,383.83

Johnsonburg Area

Elk

-36%

$11,175.29

Salisbury-Elk Lick

Somerset

-39%

$9,555.59

Cameron County

Cameron

-39%

$10,600.96

Average Bottom 20

-33%

$9,852.69

A new policy brief from Temple University's Center on Regional Politics finds that Pennsylvania’s education funding system is out of sync with the rest of the nation.

While 11 other states provide a hold harmless guarantee to school districts, no other state in the nation also guarantees districts with declining enrollment a share of new education revenues.

Not only do Pennsylvania school districts retain baseline funding levels—regardless of student enrollment and student need—but declining enrollment districts are guaranteed a portion of new education revenues. The authors describe this practice as “hold harmless plus.”

Hold Harmless

My colleague Nate Benefield and I recently offered testimony to the Basic Education Funding Commission, where a large portion of our remarks focused on transitioning away from hold harmless in favor a weighted student funding (WSF) model.

Currently, if a Pennsylvania student moves from one district to another, state funding does not follow the child to her new school.

Above all else, a weighted model would distribute funds that truly follow each child. WSF also accounts for individual student need by providing additional dollars for low-income and English language learners.

The Funding Commission presents an important opportunity to establish a funding formula that is equitable, rational, and transparent. The first step for lawmakers should be to phase out hold harmless, once and for all.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 10:30 AM | Comments



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