PA funding for education: Up or down?

These 2 graphics from PA Budget and Policy Center are instructive.

The first illustrates why people can say both that the state has cut a billion dollars from education (compare the tops of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 bars) and that it has increased the budget for education (compare the tops of the last 2 bars to the first 2 bars on the left):

Education-Funding-2008- PA

The benchmark is over 9 billion in 2008-09. In 2009-10 and 2010-11, the total state contribution rose to almost 10 billion, but the yellow shading shows over a billion dollars from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 = ARRA, or Stimulus program. The states weren’t supposed to use Stimulus funds to replace regularly budgeted items, but in hard times, PA and some other states did.

After the Stimulus funds ended, PA was left contributing less to local public education in 2011-12. Under pressure of public opinion, rising local school taxes, inflation, continued draining of funds to charter schools, and other causes, state funding has been rising, though slowly.

The proposed 2014-15 budget seems to have more money than ever for education. But note how large the blue-gray section is at the top of the bar. That’s for pensions. For many years, the state did not contribute its expected share toward future retirees’ pensions (the teachers and other employees did). So now it’s catch-up time.

Thus, although total state education spending is higher already this year (2013-14) than in 2008-09, the amount the school districts received from the state for educating students (not including pension costs) is still significantly less than they received in 2009-10 or 2010-11.

Some confusion has also been caused by consolidation of budget lines. Traditionally, one looked at the “basic education funding” line. In recent years, that line was increased by moving some other lines into it, and various line items that previously went towards education (e.g. reimbursement of charter school costs to school districts) have been cut entirely. So it is no longer valid to look at “basic education funding” in isolation.

Furthermore, even in the proposed 2014-15 budget, the dark blue part of the bar is still slightly lower than in 2008-09. That means that state spending to educate students and meet school districts’ everyday expenses would be lower than 6 years earlier. So we can’t say education funding has increased or decreased. The way to express it is:

PA education funding will be higher in 2014-15 if we include pensions and if the budget holds up.

Unfortunately, the second “if” is a problem too. Here is another graphic from PA Budget and Policy Center:


It shows that state revenues have taken a dive below their expected level. The PA General Assembly will be scrambling to figure out what to do with the shortfall for the rest of this year and what do do about an obviously over-optimistic budget for next year.

There will be proposals, obviously damaging, to cut back the investment in education. And there are proposals to tap the huge potential revenue source that is natural gas production, on which PA does not currently levy a designated extraction tax.

Anyone interested in the future of education needs to keep an eye on these issues.

If school districts in the state’s wealthiest county (that’s us, Chester County) are under pressure, think of the other end of the spectrum. As stated in “A Strong State Commitment to Public Education, A Must Have for Pennsylvania’s Children,” which is the executive summary of PBPC’s April 2014 report:

“Recent trends follow the state’s history of underfunding schools, with Pennsylvania ranked 10th lowest for the state share of school funding. Low state funding makes schools dependent on local income and wealth, leading to large gaps in funding between affluent and poor districts and a “D” for funding equity on one recent national report card.”

Download the full report here.


A Strong State Commitment to Public Education, A Must Have for Pennsylvania’s Children

Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, April 30, 2014

This report examines school funding in Pennsylvania, focusing on the city of Philadelphia and on other low-income school districts. The report highlights recent funding cuts, and the policy choices that led to these cuts. The end of the report suggests some alternative – and better – choices that Pennsylvania might make regarding state school funding and tax policies going forward.

The scale of recent funding cuts in Philadelphia and other low-income districts has been unprecedented. Since 2011 Philadelphia has experienced a $294 million drop in state school funding. Philadelphia educates 12% of Pennsylvania’s school students but experienced 35% of statewide school funding cuts.

State education funding cuts have affected all school districts, but targeted those with the poorest students. Philadelphia ranked first with cuts of $1,351 per student, followed by Chester-Upland ($1,194), York City ($1,096) and Southeastern Greene, a rural district ($1,022). Meanwhile some wealthy suburban districts experienced cuts of only $36 to $59 per student. Statewide, three years after close to $1 billion in state reductions to classroom funding, 54% of per student cuts remain.

Within Philadelphia, state funding cuts, and the siphoning off of state school funding to charter schools, have wreaked tangible devastation on schools and children. For example, since 2011, the School District of Philadelphia has reduced its school counseling staff by over half, its central administration and support staff by nearly half, its school nurses by nearly a third, and its early childhood teachers by one fifth.

More than 800 parents from 70 schools have filed complaints with the Pennsylvania Department of Education alleging denial of necessary educational services to their children in 2013. Educational enrichment programs that help students get into competitive colleges have all but come to an end, including Northeast High School’s acclaimed Space Research Center (SPARC), debate, dance, science Olympiad and other programs. With roughly 1 nurse for every 1,250 students, parents have been particularly concerned about health for their children. The lack of an onsite nurse is thought to have possibly contributed to the death of 12-year old Laporshia Massey following an asthma attack that began at school.

Other hard-pressed districts across the Commonwealth have also closed schools, increased class sizes, cut instructional personnel, and ended music, arts, and sports programs. Based on a survey of school districts, the Pennsylvania School Boards and School Business Officials declared that the “the financial condition of Pennsylvania’s public schools declined from “difficult” in 2011-12 to “desperate” for 2012-13.

Recent trends follow the state’s history of underfunding schools, with Pennsylvania ranked 10th lowest for the state share of school funding. Low state funding makes schools dependent on local income and wealth, leading to large gaps in funding between affluent and poor districts and a “D” for funding equity on one recent national report card.

Over two Pennsylvania gubernatorial administrations, the state began to recognize the problem of low state funding and then launched a bipartisan effort to close a $2,400 per student gap between actual funding and levels adequate to support a quality education for all children. Philadelphia’s shortfall to achieve funding adequacy was 75% higher than the statewide average gap, $4,184 per student.

Funding cuts since 2010, however, have undone initial progress towards funding adequacy, leading Philadelphia’s District Superintendent Dr. William Hite to lament only weeks before the current school year that stopgap funding would “allow us to open the doors of the school” but “not do enough for what goes on behind those doors.”

State education funding cuts have come at the same time as federal funding for preK-12 education declined and the local property tax base has been constrained by a slow recovery, falling property values, and the state tightening caps on annual increases in local school funding.

Recent Pennsylvania public school funding trends reflect a trifecta of misguided policy choices.

The first choice was an effort to balance the state budget through cuts in public services. Pennsylvania’s education funding cuts translated into 20,000 lost jobs in public education, which also held back private job (and revenue) growth as reduced spending by school employees rippled through local economies. Pennsylvania’s job growth since January 2011 ranks 49th of the 50 states.

At the same time that the commonwealth was reducing education spending, the state moved forward with several large corporate tax cuts, some of which continue to phase in even now. Since 2003, the value of Pennsylvania corporate tax cuts has more than tripled, and in 2013-14 the tax breaks have a value equivalent to nearly one-third of the total prek-12 education budget. The state also failed to enact a severance tax on natural gas drilling.

Third, Governor Corbett and the General Assembly diverted additional funding for alternatives to public schools, despite the impact of funding cuts on public education and the commonwealth’s economic recovery. The commonwealth now supports four separate systems: private and sectarian schools, charter schools, and online “cyber charters,” as well as public schools. Expansion of these parallel systems has particularly affected districts like Philadelphia with high poverty populations. By 2013-14, for example, payments to charter schools represented 30% of Philadelphia school district’s operating budget.

Pennsylvania’s deep cuts in education funding singling out the most vulnerable districts fly in the face of overwhelming evidence that concentrated poverty is a major impediment to children’s educational progress.

Pennsylvania can make different policy choices related to public education. The end of this report outlines ways that the state could increase revenues for schools and get back on track to funding levels adequate to deliver educational quality in poor as well as wealthy districts. This is the right – and far-sighted – choice not only for the children and families in those districts but also for the long-run health of Pennsylvania’s economy.

Download the full April 2014 PBPC report, “A Strong State Commitment to Public Education, A Must Have for Pennsylvania’s Children,” by Sharon Ward here

Teacher: Who Is Making Real Money? Vendors

by Diane Ravitch, 3/2/14

A teacher describes the incessant arrival and departure of vendors, each with a different program and remedies:

“From what I noticed as a teacher, the extra money given to the low performing schools was used to pay VENDORS. Our school district paid some company to come in and “help” the teachers. The guy walked around a lot, then hired people from all over the US. My “helper” came to MI all the way from Vermont. She probably made more than me and her plane fare and hotel was paid.

We got a new Algebra program called Carnegie. I went to training for 2 weeks and then once a month. After two years, all the trained teachers were gone. I was the only one left. Then that was abandoned and we got the TI-inspire calculators. I was trained on that and loved it. After all the training, they sent me to an elementary school. I noticed the teacher had the calculators but not the laptop and router that is part of it.

“Now they had me teaching reading and we had 2-3 reading programs going on at once and vendors running all over the schools having meetings. We bought thousands of books and then the school was taken over by the EAA. (Check that state school takeover out).

“My point is that the vendors are making promises and they get money and the kids are the guinea pigs.”

Why Does PBS Ignore the Assault on Public Education? Can You Guess?

Diane Ravitch’s blog: A site to discuss better education for all, February 16, 2014

In the aftermath of David Sirota’s exposé of PBS accepting $3.5 million for a series about pension reform, funded by the Arnold Foundation (and since returned), another question naturally arises: why has PBS shown little or no interest in the corporate takeover of and turmoil in public education?

I appeared on Charlie Rose last year for about 15-20 minutes. But otherwise the viewers of PBS have not had any in-depth investigation of the corporate-funded assault on one of our nation’s most crucial democratic institutions. Why isn’t PUBLIC television interested in PUBLIC education?

Here is one lead, sent to me by blogger Jonathan Pelto, who received it from Oakland parent activist Sharon Higgins. This was a letter she wrote in 2009:

It begins like this:

“Last summer you initiated a series of conversations, underwritten by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, about the “crisis” in our public schools.

“In the past nine months, it appears you have had three of these full-hour conversations: Wendy Kopp (with Bob Wise on 7/1/08), Michelle Rhee (7/14/08), and Arne Duncan (3/11/09). Have I missed anyone?

“As a longtime viewer, I am extremely disturbed that you are now limiting your education interviews to pro-charter school forces only. This clearly reveals a problem with your journalistic standards.

“I am even more disturbed, but sadly not surprised, to find that the funding for these interviews is being provided by a pro-charter school organization, The Broad Foundation. Either you have not researched how this organization is influencing the public’s view of charter schools, or you are intentionally delivering their propaganda to the American public.”

Since Higgins wrote, Charlie Rose has interviewed Bill Gates, Joel Klein, and other leaders of the corporate takeover.

Clearly, balance is needed.

#PAGov: Does Corbett Think It Was Unfair of Him to Scrap Rendell’s Education Funding Formula?

by Jon Geeting, Keystone Politics, 1/22/14


Tom Corbett is trolling us hard today, calling PA’s state education funding unfair while ignoring his own starring role in making it more unfair.

Lots of voters don’t know this happened, but I’m old enough to remember that we had a fairer funding formula until Tom Corbett got rid of it for no good reason.

During the Ed Rendell administration, a study was released, known to folks in education as the “costing out study.”

What the costing out study said was that state education funding wasn’t taking into consideration important factors like the number of kids in the district getting free or reduced-price lunch, special education, and other factors that would make it more difficult or expensive to educate certain student populations (mainly in urban districts).

So Ed Rendell and the Democrats spent serious political capital creating a fairer education funding formula that did address those things. Remember the “on time budget” talking point Republicans like to use? That won’t make sense to the kids today, but it refers to an Ed Rendell budget that was late – late because Rendell was waiting out the dead-enders in the Republican Party who didn’t want to change the state funding distribution.

In the end the formula passed, and for about a year, PA had a fairer education funding formula. The “costing out” formula was to be phased in over four years, and (mostly) urban districts were in line to get a lot more state money. We got one year of this increased funding in the FY2009-2010 budget, and it was awesome. But then…something happened!…

read more at Keystone Politics

Announcing the 2014 Candidate Report Card!

Teacher Action Group – Philadelphia, 1/17/14

Teacher Action Group sent the candidates for Governor an education final exam. Here are the results. Grades were assessed through answers to a survey and written explanations.  If a candidate failed to take the survey, we graded them on their policies, statements, and actions. This project is not an endorsement — it is meant to inform the voting public about a crucial election issue.

This information lives on our Campaign Report Card Page.

We strongly recommend also checking out our individual report cards with commentary explaining the grades.

TAG governor education.jpg

download TAG’s candidate report cards here:TAGReportCardRubric

Brazen Enough to Gut Public Education, Governor Cowers as Students Protest

by Sarah Lazare, Common Dreams, 1/17/14

Gov. Corbett backs out of first-ever visit to Philadelphia public school after students, workers, and community members mobilize

Students protest at Central High School in Philadelphia (Photo: Philly Student Union/Flickr)
Pennsylvania Republican Governor Tom Corbett was slated Friday to make his first ever appearance in a Philadelphia public school since he took the state’s helm in 2011.

Yet when he found out he would be met with mass protests from the students and workers whose public education system has been gutted under his watch, he backed out of the event, instead “honoring” Central High School for its top performance from his office in downtown Philadelphia.

“The governor bailed on us,” Central High School senior Michael Krolikowski told Common Dreams.

“Governor Corbett showed cowardice in not showing up and facing the students who have had to deal with his budget cuts and have had to deal with the policies of the administration that have devastating effects on their education and futures,” said Hiram Rivera, executive director for Philly Student Union, in an interview with Common Dreams. “He was not expecting the power of the students.”

While Corbett failed to show up, students, workers and community members did.

Nearly 100 students at Central High School — where Corbett was slated to make his appearance — rallied in front of their school at 7:30 AM, chanting “No Education, No Life,” and “Save Our Schools,” waving banners and posters and passing out informational flyers to parents and students entering the building.

Later in the morning, a crowd of 200 protesters from teachers’ unions, the NAACP, black churches, and community groups marched to the school, according to Rivera….

read more at Common Dreams