CF’s work in education focuses on promoting opportunity and improving children’s lives though incentive-based reforms.  Instead of repeating the failed attempts to reform education through new rules or additional funding, such reforms use competition to improve education.   Incentive-based reforms include providing choice within the public school system through charter schools and cyber schools, providing families with private school options through vouchers or tax credit-funded scholarships, and measuring and rewarding success in education for both schools and teachers.   Only when parents have are able to choose the best school for their child, have an abundance of educational choices and ample information, and schools are forced to compete for students will we provide the best education to Pennsylvania’s youth.


Recent Issues

Playing the Education Lottery

MARCH 31, 2014 | Commentary by NATHAN BENEFIELD

Last month, families from across Pennsylvania waited anxiously to hear if they had finally won the lottery. But these hopeful parents weren’t looking to win the MegaMillions—they were hoping for the chance at enrolling their children in a better and safer school.

Time for Paycheck Protection in Pennsylvania

MARCH 17, 2014 | Commentary by ELIZABETH STELLE

The government liquor monopoly, the pension time bomb, and Philadelphia’s public school crisis—what do they have in common? Each of these public policy disasters was supported by government unions. What’s more, taxpayers help collect the funds that union leaders use to stand in the way of commonsense reform—and union memb

Charter School Reform

Testimony of Nathan Benefield

MARCH 14, 2014 | Testimony by NATHAN BENEFIELD

Charter Schools

The major problems we need to address with charter school funding aren’t specific to charter schools but are inherent in our system of education funding and spending. I suggest that instead of singling out charter schools we reexamine our entire system of funding public education.



Recent Blog Posts

SAT Scores Slip While Spending Soars

APRIL 16, 2014

Pennsylvania education spending is at at all-time high and ranks near the top in dollars spent per student among the states. But all of that extra spending isn't helping kids succeed.

In fact, SAT scores have declined while spending has soared. According to a new Cato Institute analysis, Pennsylvania students perform worse, on average, on the SATs now compared to 1972, despite an almost 120 percent increase—adjusted for inflation—in spending per student. See the chart below.

SAT scor vs Spending

How are we spending so much more without improving education outcomes? The answer is simple: There is no correlation between spending and achievement. How the money is spent is more important than how much money there is to spend. The Cato analysis finds the correlation between state spending and academic achievement is not significant:

Correlations are measured on a scale from 0 to 1, where 0 represents absolutely no correlation
between two data series and 1 represents a perfect correlation. Anything below 0.3 or 0.4 is
considered a weak correlation. The 0.075 figure reported here suggests that there is essentially no link between state education spending (which has exploded) and the performance of students at the end of high school (which has generally stagnated or declined).

The answer to our education woes is not more spending, but smarter spending. Education reform should also mean protecting high performing teachers, embracing different education models (themed public charter schools or public cyber charter schools) to serve different learning styles, and reforming the archaic student funding formula.  

School choice and competition is the key to saving students, not never-ending spending increases. 

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:29 PM | Comments

The $1 Billion Lie Exposed

MARCH 4, 2014

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.

$1 billion cut ed graph

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.

posted by ELIZABETH STELLE | 09:00 AM | Comments

The Berlin Wall of Philadelphia's Public Schools

FEBRUARY 27, 2014

Students in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had their hopes dashed last week when they lost out on the chance to land one of the few vacant openings in charter schools.

In Pittsburgh, more than 500 applied for openings at Environmental Charter School, but only 28 spots were available. The school, as required by law, held a lottery to determine the lucky winners and the unfortunate families who would be denied the opportunity this year.

The same story—even magnified—took place on the other side of the state. Philadelphia's Math and Science Technology charter schools (MaST) received an incredible 5,000 applications for 98 slots. The school earned a 90 on the new School Performance Profile, which Newsworks reports as the highest score for a non-magnet school in Philadelphia.

As Anastasia heard her daughter's name– Nicole Ratkova– called over the speakers, her heart pounded and tears welled in her eyes.

Nicole had been selected for the top spot on the 9th-grade waiting list – an outcome tied in part to the fact that her younger brother attends kindergarten at the school. Siblings of MaST students get a boost in the lottery.

Waiting list was the best news for which the pair could hope. The only new students MaST admitted in the lottery were those applying for kindergarten. For the 4,219 students hoping to get into grades 1-12, the ride on the wait-list was predetermined. The parents were there to jockey only for order.

According to the PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools, 44,000 students currently are on waiting lists to get into charter schools. Why are so many students dependent on a lottery to determine their fate?

Currently, charter schools must apply to a local school district to get approval. As many school districts view charters as unwanted competition, this can be a difficult process. Indeed, it is akin to requiring McDonald's to approve any new Wendy's in the same area.

In Philadelphia, the situation has gotten worse. The School District of Philadelphia is demanding that all charter schools agree to caps on enrollment. Effectively, they are trying to set up a wall to keep students trapped in schools they want to leave.

These caps are illegal in every other district, but Philadelphia's School Reform Commission has broad exemptions from the law. Unfortunately, by limiting charter schools, they are simply limiting the opportunities available for student and denying families the choices they are demanding.

Pending legislation would help alleviate this logjam, giving universities the ability to authorize new charter schools. At least 16 states allow multiple authorizers, including 13 states that empower universities to approve charter schools' application.

Pennsylvania should follow their lead and open up new avenues for school choice, rather than continue to write sad stories of doors being closed on bright futures because of how a ping pong ball bounces.

posted by NATHAN BENEFIELD | 03:35 PM | Comments



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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.


Should taxpayer resources be used to collect a private entities' dues and political money?

Happy Tax Freedom Day, Pennsylvania!

April 21

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