Harrisburg, PA – How much does education cost the average Pennsylvania taxpayer? What percentage of students passes basic achievement tests? How much is per pupil spending in a given district? What are the annual salaries of teachers and administrators in my school district? Has student achievement test performance increased or decreased in the last decade?
The answers to these questions and more can be found at openPAgov.org, a new online portal launched today by the Commonwealth Foundation. openPAgov.org tracks ten years of data on Pennsylvania school spending and achievement, as well as teacher salaries and property tax figures, and offers parents and taxpayers in the Keystone State easy, one-stop access to the information they need to answer two critical questions: How much are Pennsylvania public schools costing me, and am I getting my money’s worth?
“While some of the data on openPAgov.org are shocking, they are hardly surprising to anyone who has tracked education spending and student achievement in Pennsylvania over the last decade,” said Commonwealth Foundation president Matthew J. Brouillette, a former high school teacher. “Although some school districts have seen increases in student achievement test performance, these districts are the exception — not the rule. This, despite across-the-board increases in both per student spending and property taxes, not to mention significant increases in teacher pay and benefits.”
The purpose of openPAgov.org is twofold: first, the site is designed to offer visitors raw, unedited, data, free of editorial commentary. “The numbers speak for themselves,” said Brouillette.
But the second purpose of openPAgov.org is to pull back the curtain on the rhetoric and spin that often accompanies the debate on school performance, teacher pay, property taxes and public school spending.
“To listen to teachers unions—and the politicians who cater to them—one would think that the state of education in Pennsylvania has never been better—that students are thriving, and that we owe it all to higher spending in public education,” said Brouillette. “openPAgov.org debunks that highly compelling, but utterly fictional narrative, and does it with hard, irrefutable numbers.”
Consider these statistics from Pennsylvania’s capital and three largest cities for the 2008-09 school year:
- The average salary for a secondary teacher in the Harrisburg City School District was over $54,000 per year—over twice Harrisburg’s average annual wage of $26,000. Meanwhile, 64 percent of 11th grade students in the HCSD tested as “not proficient” in reading.
- Secondary school teachers in Philadelphia brought home an average salary of over $65,500, compared to their neighbors, who earned on average just over $36,600—a 45 percent difference. This, while 57 percent of Philadelphia 11th graders tested “not proficient” in reading.
- In Pittsburgh, secondary school teachers collected an average yearly salary of just under $66,700. Compare that figure to the rest of the residents of Pittsburgh, who brought home an average salary of $33,600. Forty-nine percent of Pittsburgh’s 11th graders tested as “not proficient” in reading.
- Secondary teachers in Allentown earned on average $53,100, 40 percent more than the rest of the citizens of Allentown, who brought home an average salary of $31,600. Meanwhile, 51 percent of Allentown 11th graders tested as “not proficient” in reading.
These figures are just a small sampling of the massive amount of raw data available at the fingertips of an openPAgov.org user.
- The site tracks property taxes for every school district in the commonwealth, and allows visitors to compare their tax bills with those of neighboring districts.
- openPAgov.org also tracks per pupil spending in every Pennsylvania school district over the last decade. These data, coupled with data that can be found in the school performance section of the site, allows visitors to chart the performance levels of all students in a given district, and see exactly how much it has cost per student.
“The numbers don’t lie,” said Brouillette. “Pennsylvania’s schools are failing too many of our kids, and we as taxpayers are being sent larger and larger bills to fund more and more failure. This can’t continue.”
As the fall election season heats up here in Pennsylvania, education – and education spending – are sure to take center stage. “Both major-party gubernatorial nominees are on record as supporting school choice, which is at least a tacit admission that the commonwealth’s school system is not working as well as it should be,” Brouillette said. “The numbers on openPAgov.org confirm what many have long suspected about Pennsylvania’s public schools: they are in real trouble, Pennsylvania’s kids are suffering because of it, and throwing good money after bad is no longer an acceptable answer.”
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openPAgov.org was created by the Commonwealth Foundation as an easily-navigated portal that will allow parents, journalists and lawmakers quick, painless access to information that isn’t always readily available. While these data exist separately on other sites, openPAgov.org is the first site of its kind in Pennsylvania.