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.

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.

Keeping Teachers in the Classroom

JANUARY 2, 2014 | Commentary by PRIYA ABRAHAM

Given our still-sputtering economy, Americans have grown used to their public schools facing tight budgets. This fiscal squeeze has drawn out a hidden crisis in public education: How do we keep our best teachers in the classroom? The short answer is, we don't.



Recent Blog Posts

Hope and Success in Opportunity Scholarship Program

JULY 15, 2014

James Cromartie is a 7th grader at the School of Church Farm in Exton, Pa. His mom, Lynne, is grateful for the school's challenging academics, art, music and athletic programs.

"Many of these 'extras' are unavailable at the middle schools in my neighborhood," she explains.

James is one of thousands helped by the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). Reserved for students in the lowest-performing public schools, the OSTC provides hope in largely hopeless situations. The program helped 1,318 students with $15.6 million in credits claimed in its first year. Fifty million dollars in scholarships will be available in the future, meaning the program can save almost three times as many kids from failing schools!

The OSTC, like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), allows businesses to receive tax deductions for funding scholarships, so students like James can participate in groups that don’t exist in many public schools.

The quality of these programs is gaining national praise. A new report by the Center for Education Reform gives Pennsylvania a 'B' grade with the fourth best school choice options in the nation.

Plus, the OSTC is saving tax dollars. Each OSTC student that chooses to attend a private school instead of a public school saves taxpayers more than $11,000.

Cost per Student FY 2012-13

Public Public School Spending Per Student

$14,621

Average Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit

$3,193

Savings Per Scholarship Student

$11,428

Lynne continues, "The effects of inferior education are devastating to families and communities. Parents should be able to select an educational setting which best fits the needs of their child and their families. The Opportunity Scholarship has enabled me to send my son to the school of his choice so that he can pursue his educational goals and dreams."

The OSTC, like the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, is a win for families, businesses and taxpayers. But most importantly, it's giving children trapped in violent and failing schools a second chance.

posted by MICHAEL HOGG, ELIZABETH STELLE | 02:32 PM | Comments

A Fair Funding Formula: School Choice

JUNE 12, 2014

Case for School Choice

Although it doesn’t fit the popular narrative of cash-starved school districts, spending on education is at an all-time high.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education budget reached $11.2 billion in FY 2013-14, more than one-third of the total $28.4 billion in General Fund appropriations. Basic education funding alone increased by $90 million, bringing that line item to nearly $5.5 billion.

While school district spending exceeds $14,000 per student, ranking 10th in the nation, performance has not improved with spending increases. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows nearly three in five Pennsylvania’s 8th grade students aren’t making proficiency in reading and math. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania public schools reported 14,572 violent incidents in the 2012-2013 school year.

In contrast, schools of choice have become increasingly popular as they spend less per student and provide better and safer schools for families. School choice saves Pennsylvania taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Public charter schools and cyber charter schools educate children for a fraction of the $14,027 per pupil spent in public district schools. The average EITC scholarship, which allows a child to leave a district school for a school of his or her choice, was $1,100 in 2011-12, while non-public schools receive about $1,250 per pupil in taxpayer support. If each of the 391,657 students utilizing school choice returned to public district schools, schools would require an additional $3.8 billion in revenue to handle the enrollment.

Total Taxpayer Savings from Students Attending Schools of Choice

 2011-12 School Year

 

Savings Per Student*

Number of Students**

Total Savings

Private and Nonpublic

$12,777

265,724

$3,395,155,548

EITC Scholarship Students

$11,677

45,200

$527,800,400

Home School

$14,027

20,897

$293,122,219

Public Charter (Total)

$1,429

105,036

$150,096,444

Cyber Charter

$2,516

32,322

$81,322,152

Total

 

391,657

$3,838,374,211

* Includes All state funding for nonpublic schools plus tax credits for EITC scholarships as a cost.

** Homeschooling enrollment estimate based on 2007-08 PDE data.

Sources: PA Department of Education, Summaries of Annual Financial Report Data; Public School Enrollment Reports, http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/data_and_statistics/7202

A report by the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice found that school choice “improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, [and] moves students into more integrated classrooms.” The report includes numerous empirical studies. It finds 11 out of 12 gold standard studies found school choice improved academic outcomes for participants, and all six empirical studies of school choice’s fiscal impact found that school choice saves taxpayer money. Not only is school choice a sound investment for the state, it places power back into the hands of parents.

Is it possible to better educate students at a lower cost to taxpayers? Absolutely, and school choice programs prove it.

posted by JESSICA BARNETT | 09:00 AM | Comments

Philadelphia Charter Schools Fight for Students

MAY 23, 2014

In the search for a solution to its nearly $30 million year-end deficit—not to mention a projected $216 million budget gap next year—the School District of Philadelphia is once again putting public charter schools on the chopping block.

Blaming charter school payments for the district’s increased financial distress, the School Reform Commission (SRC) moved to enforce enrollment caps and withhold funding late last year. This move, illegal in all of Pennsylvania’s other 499 school districts, means that charters must either send students back to their local schools or suffer the threat of having their charters revoked.

But West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School is fighting for its students. Last week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted the school’s request for an injunction against the SRC’s decision, putting at least a temporary stop to the punitive measures.

What’s at stake? West Philadelphia Achievement’s CEO and co-founder Stacy Gill Phillips wants to prevent sending 200 students back to the failing and often violent schools from which they fled (via Philly.com):

The drive behind our historic lawsuit is the best interests of students and families who are desperately seeking quality education. It is time that we shift the charter school conversation from the School District's bottom line back to the children of Philadelphia, where it belongs.

With more than 60,000 current Philadelphia charter students and 44,000 students  on the state’s waiting list, many students and parents clearly prefer charter schools—and there’s academic achievement to back it up. As PA Independent reports, the School Performance Profile for Philadelphia district schools scored 57.5, while its charter schools scored 66.9.

Competition for school funding continues to drive harmful educational policy, even though increased spending doesn’t necessarily lead to better education. Case in point: Students will wait in lines thousands deep for the opportunities charter schools provide, even though they receive 20 percent less funding per pupil.

What Philadelphia needs is true charter reform which would, as Nate Benefield testified before the Auditor General, strengthen charter school accountability and transparency and pursue alternative authorizers, like 16 other states have.

In the battle between district and charter schools, Phillips puts it best:

If the School District sees a need to control the growth of charter schools, then it should squash the tremendous demand from Philadelphia families by doing its job: offering a quality education to the city's children.

Rather than seek to close and stifle the growth of quality charter schools for financial gain, the School District must evaluate why it has lost so many students, fix where it went wrong, and achieve the level of excellence that will give parents a reason to return to district schools.

 

posted by JESSICA BARNETT | 08:00 AM | Comments



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