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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How can school funding be "slashed" yet "technically rise"?
Take a look at this excerpt from a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, (emphasis mine):
Education funding to public schools has been slashed by more than $1 billion on the current governor's watch, noted Stephanie Robinson, a teacher at Barry Elementary in West Philadelphia. (Corbett, who has repeatedly publicly blasted PFT members for not contributing toward their health insurance, maintains that he has granted record amounts of aid to city schools. But, PFT and other opponents contend that although technically school aid under Corbett has risen above Rendell-era levels, the rise is minimal...)
The Inquirer piece notes, for instance, that the political action committee of Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers gave $100,000 to Tom Wolf between May 6 and June 9 alone. According to the most recent campaign finance reports, the Pennsylvania State Education Assocation gave him another $200,000.
Unions have invested heavily in commercials and newspaper ads promulgating the myth that Gov. Tom Corbett cut a billion dollars in education funding. In fact, the PA Families First "SuperPAC", which we highlighted before, has been running election-related TV ads spreading the "$1 billion cut" lie. Not coincidently, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Assocation recently gave $1 million to PA Families First, directly from union dues.
Of course, education funding cannot be "slashed" and "technically rise" at the same time. Only one can be true. And the truth is that state education spending is at an all-time high.
But as long as union leaders are willing to cut million dollar checks promoting their billion dollar myth, it’s no surprise a teacher from West Philadelphia is unclear about the facts.
Here is the full version:
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.
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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.