Last week Governor Tom Wolf held a press conference on the Capitol Steps to crown over four months campaign to promote a drastic increase in funding for district schools. But his central claim that school districts are underfunded and charter schools are the culprits is the exact opposite of reality.
Wolf spoke from a prominent podium displaying a sign proclaiming “Pennsylvania 45th in education funding.” But Pennsylvania isn’t 45th in education funding – not even close.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics of the United States Department of Education, Pennsylvania is 8th in the country in education funding, with an average of $ 18,000 per student going to districts. The national average is around $ 14,000.
These facts are indisputable. Nonetheless, Pennsylvanians have been treated to a barrage of propaganda and disinformation on the issue. Wolf keeps repeating his argument that Harrisburg’s share of education funding going to school districts – the âstate shareâ – is too small. He cites statistics from other states where a higher percentage of spending comes from the state budget.
“Percentage” is the key word. The state’s share in Pennsylvania only seems smaller because the amount of local funding to districts is huge. Local funding per student in Pennsylvania public schools is over $ 3,600 more than the national average.
If Governor Wolf and his allies want the ratio of public and local education funding to be more like that of other states, we should reduce local funding to align with the national average. Is this what Wolf advocates?
Another Claim the governor said last week is that “most of the funding for schools in Pennsylvania hasn’t changed in a generation.”
Again, this is a gross distortion. State-level funding for public education has been steadily increasing for decades. Pennsylvania state education funding has increased by 68% since 1990 and 20% since 2010. And that’s after adjustment for inflation. Total funding for Pennsylvania public schools far exceeds most other states.
Finally, Wolf conveniently ignored the huge sums of extra money that the districts have on hand. Before the pandemic, school districts in Pennsylvania collectively held $ 4.84 billion in reserves. They have since received a An additional $ 6.2 billion in federal COVID aid despite their buildings being closed last year.
But instead of being honest about how much taxpayer money goes to school districts, Wolf chose to focus his fire on charter schools. Despite their impressive performance and mission to serve underprivileged communities across the state – at lower cost to taxpayers – the governor is seeking to cut funding for charter schools by $ 400 million.
the wolf’s chosen cant is that the “sky-high costs of teaching charter schools are costing taxpayers far too much money, and those costs have increased during the pandemic.” But this is another half-truth. The only reason charter schools have received more funding in recent years, especially since the pandemic, is that more children have started attending these schools. Parents vote with their feet.
When the parents of a child decide to transfer their child from a district school to a public charter school, the money intended for that child’s public education is transferred with them.
And even when that happens, the charter school does not receive the full amount. Believe it or not, the school district keeps about 25% of the funding for that student, even though they are no longer responsible for their education.
As a result, charter schools end up saving taxpayer dollars by educating students at a 25% discount. Funding for charter schools only increases when enrollment increases. Funding for district schools increases in perpetuity, even in the face of declining enrollment.
As lawmakers and Governor Wolf negotiate a budget in the coming weeks and decide on education funding and other education-related proposals, it is important that Pennsylvanians know the truth. Funding for education in our state is among the highest in the country and has increased dramatically over the past generation. Charter schools are not the cause of the alleged financial problems of school districts – in fact, the opposite is true.
We cannot let the governor get away with manipulating voters to serve special interests. It’s not just about money – it’s about empowering our children.
Marc LeBlond is Senior Policy Analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free market think tank.