October 13, 2014, HARRISBURG, Pa.—New research from the Commonwealth Foundation reveals that for years York City students have suffered in some of Pennsylvania’s worst-achieving public schools—second to last in the state to be exact. That’s despite a steady rise in funding amounting to a 33 percent increase over ten years.
October 6, 2014, HARRISBURG, Pa.—Today, the state House will consider strengthening educational choice and opportunity for Pennsylvania students. Pending legislation would make it easier for businesses to contribute to two tax credit programs, making highly sought after scholarships more readily available for families across the state.
In 2001, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to enact an education tax credit aimed at corporations. Since then, the popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program has provided more than 430,000 scholarships to students from low- and middle-income families across the commonwealth seeking the right school for their child.
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By standing in the way of tens of millions of new dollars for Philadelphia classrooms, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has revealed its true identity—a self-interested, self-serving interest group that fails teachers, fails students, and fails the poor.
Today, the Commonwealth Foundation launched PFTfails.com to inform the city of Philadelphia—as well as all Pennsylvanians across the state—about the failed track record of PFT leadership. Instead of working to improve the broken status quo, PFT executives use children and teachers as pawns to protect their political influence.
And make no mistake: the status quo has demonstrably failed in Philadelphia public schools. More than 80 percent of students did not achieve proficiency in both reading and math in 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card. Violence remains a major problem in city schools, with 2,485 violent incidents reported during 2013-14. Despite the abysmal performance and violent conditions, PFT leaders oppose charter schools and tax credit scholarship programs for low-income families seeking better, safer education opportunities.
Construct a broken system, defend a broken system, and trap low-income families in the broken system. That’s the PFT playbook.
But it’s not just students and low-income families who are failed by union executives. PFT fails hard-working, high-performing Philadelphia teachers by clinging to rigid seniority mandates that can result in the best teachers being fired. What’s more, PFT refuses to embrace merit pay.
Why does PFT leadership stand in the way of higher salaries for excellent educators? Instead of encouraging and developing their best talent, PFT leaders oppose common sense reforms that would reward the most effective teachers and keep them in the classroom.
To make matters worse, the same teachers hurt by the PFT are forced to subsidize the PFT’s political agenda—whether the teachers agree with it or not. Philadelphia teachers are required to pay union dues or fair share fees—with an average annual cost exceeding $800—to various union affiliates just to keep their jobs.
Union executives take full advantage of their unique political privilege by spending dues at the astounding rate of $70,000 per minute on political television advertisements. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—the Washington D.C. based mothership of PFT—is primed to spend more on elections than ever before. This includes a recent gift of $500,000 financed by teachers' dues, and used for political attack ads via a ‘SuperPAC.’
All told, the PFT fails the entire city of Philadelphia by refusing to agree to health care concessions that would distribute an additional $54 million for classroom instruction in the current school year. Former Governor Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board all agree that this money belongs in the classrooms.
But the PFT refuses to compromise. Add it to the list of PFT failures. They fail us all when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for teachers, students, and the poor.
The York City school board is considering an intriguing proposal to turn over some of its schools to a charter operator to compete with the remaining city schools (if the district can come to a new collective bargaining agreement). Why is this transformation needed?
York City schools are among the worst performing schools in Pennsylvania. On the state's "School Performance Profile," the district ranked 499th out of 500 districts. And preliminary results show that most schools in the district declined in 2013-14.
Interstingly, commenters on a Fox 43 story about our analysis claim the district can't be expected to do better—that its performance is driven by bad parents and poor students. Certainly, poverty does play a role in academic performance, but high performing schools across Pennsylvania and the nation succeed even with low-income students.
We can, and must, do a better job to help our poorest students. And it is clear that despite the challenges, York can do better.
Not only do York schools score worse than the state average, but they perform worse than the average among all low-income students in Pennsylvania. That is, the dreadful test scores aren't driven by poverty alone. Nor is the problem in underfunding. York City schools saw a 33 percent increase—adjusted for inflation—in spending per student over the past decade. The $15,256 the district spends per student exceeds the statewide average.
Consider this: New Hope Academy Charter School was shut down after 2013 for a poor performance record—yet it performed better than most of the schools in the district.
The status quo simply isn't good enough. To send a lifeline to York children, major change is needed. Choice and competition, along with accountability measures via a performance contract, would better serve students and families.
Three union-affiliated groups released a report alleging that Pennsylvania charter schools defrauded taxpayers to the tune of $30 million since 1997. Predictably, this story has been greeted with glee from defenders of the education status-quo and those who oppose school choice. The union-backed report ultimately calls for a moratorium on new charter schools.
Try making that argument to the thousands of Pennsylvania families currently on charter waiting lists.
Increased transparency and accountability for all public schools—both charters and traditional district schools—should be welcomed with open arms. But the findings from this particular report must be met with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Government unions consistently fight tooth and nail to prevent the authorization of new charter schools—if for no other reason than to maximize the number of dues-paying teachers. They would rather maintain their political influence than let children find a better or safer school via school choice, and they cannot be trusted to provide impartial research on charters.
Of course, government unions are welcome to commission studies and engage in the political arena. We at the Commonwealth Foundation simply prefer they do so without forced dues collected at taxpayer expense.
Charters are already asked to do more with less, as they receive less money per student than traditional public schools. Now government union-funded research organizations are demanding that charters be held to significantly higher standards as well. Charter schools that fail to perform academically or suffer from financial mismanagement can be shut down, whereas school districts are never held accountable.
Where are the calls for a moratorium on district schools when one of their financial scandals makes the news? How about in the event of sexual abuse in a public school? Demanding charter schools be effectively shut down, while ignoring fraud and abuse in traditional public schools, fails to put the needs of students first.
Charter reforms, like those in SB 1085, would make them more accountable and transparent while also expanding choice across the commonwealth.
A moratorium on new charters, though, would only punish thousands of families seeking a better academic future.
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.