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.
Paul Battista told a Congressional subcommittee last year: “We can now pay a higher family-sustaining wage! We have people working for us that are the primary breadwinners of their household.” But each year, Paul’s family business—and that of countless job creators—is threatened by efforts to bolster school funding by raising business taxes.
From my vantage point on the frontlines of Pennsylvania’s public schools, I see teachers’ unions with money to spend and power to wield who are unresponsive to the very people they’re supposed to represent. Giving them special treatment that boosts their political ambitions is not the way to make them pay more attention to local education problems.
Let teachers worry about teaching; let politicians worry about politics. That’s been my mantra throughout my career as an educator. But, sadly, most public school teachers in Pennsylvania don’t have that luxury.
Recent Blog Posts
It is impossible to do more with less, they say; you cannot expect schools to achieve better results without increasing spending.
Yet an essential new report from the University of Arkansas dispels this myth by measuring the cost effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) of charter schools compared to traditional public schools (TPS). The authors find significant advantages for charters in their study of 28 states.
When it comes to cost effectiveness, or bang-for-your-buck, the authors measure National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores per $1,000 of per-pupil revenue.
In this category, charter students achieved an average of 17 more NAEP points in math and 16 more NAEP points in reading than TPS students. In other words, charters were 40% more cost effective—while receiving less funding per student than their traditional counterparts.
Consider this most recent study another piece of the ever-mounting evidence that school choice is a win for students, a win for parents, and a win for taxpayers.
PolicyBlog readers will be well-familiar with the fact that Pennsyvlania state funding for public schools is at a record high.
So why do government union leaders and some politicians still repeat a lie about multiple-billion dollars being cut from public education? Simply put, in some cases they refuse to count state funding to school districts for teachers' pension costs as part of education funding.
As the chart below shows, state aid to public schools for pensions has increased more than $1 billion since 2010-11 (this includes a $225 million transfer from the Tobacco Settlement Fund, not counted in the General Fund total).
Note that this $1 billion increase in state pension aid only covers about half of school employees' pension costs. School districts have had to match this increase with a billion dollar increase in payments from local property taxes.
It makes it easier to say that "there isn't a pension crisis" when you completely ignore a dramatic increase of more than $2 billion in public school pension costs.
Unfortunately, that pension crisis is only going to get worse. Costs will continue to rise over the next few years. The required increases under Act 120 of 2010 are equal to about $900 per household. The costs increase for school districts for required pension payments would be the equivalent of laying off one out of every three teachers in the state.
The fact is this: We are spending more on public education than ever before (see chart below as a reminder of that), but more and more education dollars are going to pay off pension debt created by past political decisions.
Philadelphia is in the midst of a crisis. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 80 percent of 4th and 8th grade students did not reach proficiency in math and reading in 2013.
For years, the School District of Philadelphia has been plagued by poor performance and budget challenges. And to address the most recent challenges, some have suggested higher cigarette taxes and more funding as the solution. But raising cigarette taxes, which would disproportionately affect the poor, is not real reform.
Just as a funding mechanism, increasing cigarette taxes proves to be inadequate, as it encourages smuggling, which would mean a loss of sales for businesses and decline in tax revenue for governments.
There's also the issue of fairness. For example, say a family in Philadelphia is already sacrificing to put their son through private school. And because both parents are smokers, they would feel the painful effects of the proposed tax increase. Is it fair that they bear an even bigger tax burden due to years of bad public policy decisions?
Still, don't Philadelphia schools need more funding? It has to come from somewhere, right?
The School District of Philadelphia already spends about $14,000 per student, which is also around the state’s average for per-pupil spending. At approximately $25 billion, overall spending on Pennsylvania public schools is at an all-time high.
Yet, we haven’t seen the results expected from such an enormous investment. In Pennsylvania, nearly three out of five 8th graders are not proficient in math and reading, and according to a Cato Institute analysis, since 1972, SAT scores have slipped, despite a 120 percent increase (adjusted for inflation) in education spending.
Education is the key to a better future for students. This is why it’s critical to push for meaningful education reforms that put parents and students in charge of education.
In Philadelphia, as students languish in violent and failing schools, their quest for a better life becomes much harder. As each year passes without a quality education, they fall further and further behind their peers.
Instead of unfairly taxing individuals to spend more on education, public officials should strongly consider a proven solution to the state’s education woes: school choice. In the end, Philadelphia's school crisis isn't about money. It's about allowing failed policies to continue—with kids paying the price.
Who are We?
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.