This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
In addition to their responses to our question about Pennsylvania’s current approach to K-12 education funding, the nine candidates were invited to give additional explanations of their positions on school funding issues.
The charter school reimbursement line item was designed to provide transition funding for school districts in the early years of the charter school movement. At the time, school districts had no way to estimate the number of students that would choose to enroll in a charter school and properly plan for this expenditure in their budget. Since that time, charter school enrollment has become more predictable and districts no longer face significant budget uncertainties.
However, I do not believe we should focus on the charter school reimbursement line item. In fact, Pennsylvania needs, and I have proposed the creation of a charter school funding commission to study the way charter and cyber schools are funded. The formula, which was established at the inception of the charter school movement, has not been updated in 15 years. Charter school funding must be reviewed to determine if it is in the best interest of Pennsylvania students or if changes are warranted. Transitioning to a student-focused funding formula, as noted above, for both traditional and charter school students has significant potential to improve the distribution of education funding in Pennsylvania.
As Governor, I have sought to keep taxes low for all Pennsylvanians, including school property taxes. In my first budget, I closed several loopholes to limit the ability for school districts to increase taxes for expenses, such as health care-related costs and school construction.
It’s important to note that in 2011-12, Pennsylvania taxpayers spent more than $26.5 billion in state, federal and local taxes to support the state’s public education system. What’s very troubling to me is that, despite the taxpayer’s investing more than $26.5 billion, including significant increases in state funding of $1.17 billion over the last three years, more than half of the state’s school districts raised property taxes. From 2005-06 to 2011-12, school property taxes have increased from $9.4 billion to $11.5 billion – a jump of 21 percent – while at the same time, state support of public schools increased from $7.8 billion to $9 billion – an increase of 16.5 percent.
Additionally, the 500 school districts throughout the Commonwealth have more than $3.5 billion in unreserved fund balances, representing over-taxation of their residents.
I believe that Pennsylvania should ensure that every student has access to quality educational opportunities that meet their individual student needs.
We must set high expectations for schools, educators, students, and parents and ensure that precious taxpayer dollars are used wisely. But elected officials must also meet their responsibility to Pennsylvania’s children and our economic future.
Right now, we are failing too many children. Drastic cuts to basic education have forced rural, suburban, and urban school districts to make devastating choices, including increases in class size, the elimination of full-day kindergarten, teacher layoffs, and cuts in science, technology, and other core curriculum areas. Aid to our schools is determined by political calculations in Harrisburg and not by a school’s need. This is wrong. Providing high-quality public education is the most fundamental responsibility of state government and should not depend on where the student lives in the state.
As Governor, I will partner with stakeholders to determine the necessary level of state support to ensure that all students receive a quality education. I will establish a transparent and predictable funding formula that recognizes student and school district characteristics like student enrollment, school district size, and poverty. I will also provide sustained, adequate, and fair support to every school in Pennsylvania.
But we must do more. We must give our children a strong start by expanding access to prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten. We must make smart investments to improve student performance and make education work for today’s students. We must empower teachers and school leaders, and ensure that every public education dollar is invested wisely.
We must recommit to public education. There is no better investment for our children and our economic future.
Education is one of the most important factors in the success of our children, but more than that, it is critical to our success as a commonwealth. If we want to attract quality jobs that pay a family sustaining wage, we must have a workforce that is trained and qualified for the jobs of the 21st century. To do that, we must find fair and equitable ways to fund our children’s educations.
First, we have to look at the issues facing our schools. Many of our urban and poorer school districts face obstacles that others don’t – including the need to work with children who may not come from English-speaking homes and children who come from low-income homes where they may not receive the care or even the meals they need because their families just cannot afford it.
We have to find ways to level the playing fields, to help these children learn and overcome the obstacles they face before they even get to school. Early childhood education through programs such as Head Start can help. Providing healthy meals can help. That is why I would support “weighted” funding for districts with high percentages of low-income children.
I also believe that we must address the inequities created by the charter school system, which draws funds away from our public schools, and I believe the Commonwealth does have a responsibility to shoulder a larger share of the education spending. Remember, we are not just spending; we are investing in our future. We owe it to our children. We owe it to our residents and employers, and we owe it to the taxpayers to make sure we have a quality public education system in Pennsylvania.
Strengthening public education and stopping privatization are my top priorities, and that is why I am campaigning from a school bus. Privatization is the biggest threat to funding public education. Millions of dollars are flowing to charter schools and cyber charter schools, even when they have poor math and reading scores and low graduation rates. Good-performing charter schools deserve continued financial support, but charter and cyber charter schools with poor student performance fail their students and harm neighborhood public schools by draining critical funds from them. Money now going to failed charter schools must be redirected to public schools, as well as good-performing charter schools.
State funding must be increased for schools whose student population is disproportionately higher in the numbers of those who are low-income, special education, and those who speak English as a second language. Schools educating large, low-income populations have enormous challenges that require additional funding, not less. Priorities should be quality preschool, longer school days and school year, teacher training, reduced class sizes and ending testing madness. Testing should be used diagnostically. High-stakes testing as a graduation requirement is destructive.
In addition to stopping the privatization of public schools and increasing state funding, state funds must be distributed through an equitable funding formula. Currently, state government is providing too little funding, making that problem even worse by creating inequitable and non-transparent methods for distributing inadequate funds. At a minimum, the Rendell school funding formula must be restored. Had the Rendell funding formula been in place for the last three years, the damage done to Philadelphia public schools would have been greatly reduced.
Lastly, schools and teachers who are teaching a large number of low-income children need support within and outside the classroom. State and local governments must attack the roots of poverty in order to close learning gaps. Far too many children live in homes with not enough food, not enough heat and too little enrichment. Blaming teachers and schools for society’s failure ensures that needed school reform will never work. Whether we like it or not, we are all in this together. And until we establish an education policy based on that truth, we will not make the educational progress needed.
I believe that public education is a shared responsibility between the state and local school districts. The driving principle behind state involvement should be the guarantee that every student, regardless of who he or she is or where he or she lives, should have access to a quality education. Pennsylvania should provide, on average, half of the statewide cost of classroom instruction, as well as a significant portion of the cost of special education and other supplemental education programs.
It is the duty of the generations in power to act in the best interest of those who will come after. Cutting $1 billion from Pennsylvanian education is like slamming windows of opportunity in the faces of our children. Students are finding that their favorite teachers have been laid off. They are arriving to classes without enough seats. They are losing opportunities to learn music, art, and participate in organized sports. The quality of our schools directly affects our ability to create and attract quality jobs.
Under a McGinty administration, we will restore funding to our schools and provide first-class education to create a first-class state and a first-class future.
I’m the son of a public school teacher, a proud public school graduate, and a big supporter of public schools. I believe our public schools have the power to drive the success of the Pennsylvania economy for decades to come.
I believe we need to reexamine the ways in which we fund our public schools, and that means finding ways to break our dependency on an inefficient property tax funding mechanism.
Having said that, my view is that Gov. Rendell was basically correct. School funding formulas that target state dollars to challenged school districts are an effective way to maximize the impact of the resources available. Abandoning that formula was one of the most significant mistakes (of many) made by the Corbett administration when it comes to our schools.
Fundamentally, education is a crucial investment, not simply an expense. And frankly, we can’t hope to be a competitive, 21st-century leader if we don’t do more as a state to invest in public education.
In my view, economic security starts with education. Children who participate in high-quality early learning programs tend to do better in the K-12 system and need less individualized instruction. Children who do well in the K-12 system are more likely to go on to higher education or an advanced vocational program. And students who graduate from college or from a vocational school are more likely to become productive contributors to our state’s economy.
If we want to start investing in Pennsylvania’s success again, it has to begin with our schools.
The key to good jobs and a secure middle class is a strong public education system. I believe that the state’s goal should be to cover at least 50 percent of the costs associated with educating our children. By increasing state funding, we can help alleviate the tax burden on local property owners and ensure that students have access to the tools and resources needed to succeed in school.
But we need to make sure that these additional funds are spent in the most efficient, effective, and transparent manner possible. That’s why, as governor, I will institute a funding formula.
I will start with a costing-out study to determine the true costs of a high-quality education. In addition to a nationally competitive base rate, the funding formula will tie additional funds to district size, poverty levels, local tax efforts, and student makeup.
I believe that all of us have a stake in the quality of the education our children receive because it’s the key to good jobs and a secure middle class. I will fight every day to build a world-class public education system so that we can keep, create, and attract good jobs right here in Pennsylvania.
Note: Max Myers and Jo Ellen Litz did not give further responses.