Are More Tax Dollars Always the Answer to Pennsylvania Education Woes?

Pennsylvania’s Republican legislature and Philadelphia’s Democratic city council know from experience the answer to the state’s poor educational system is always, without exception, more taxpayer dollars.

Yet, as the above chart shows, and similar research has shown for decades, increasing amounts of state, local and federal tax dollars do not necessarily lead to improved student performance. Standardized test results for Pennsylvania students, almost inevitably, show stagnant or declining scores, no matter how much money is thrown at the problem.

In Philadelphia, it is still in question whether the schools will open on Sept. 9, as planned. Mayor Michael Nutter, the Philly city council, superintendent William Hite, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration are still locked in a political wrestling match trying to fill a $304 million budget shortfall. Only once in the last decade has the Philadelphia School District not had a multi-million deficit at the end of the fiscal year.

Public and private unions in Philadelphia have been pounding Nutter through advertising, public protests, and complaints to the Democratic National Committee for not coming up with more money for teacher and public employee contracts. Little mention has been made about how the annual jockeying for cash affects actual students.

Thursday, the state Senate Education Committee heard testimony regarding the possible enactment of national Common Core standards for Pennsylvania students, a move the Pennsylvanian State Education Association (PSEA) says will require several hundred million in additional tax dollars for new textbooks, curricula, and materials. State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester) pointed out the program, if created, will amount to an “unfunded mandate” that will likely result in higher local property taxes for the state’s 500 school districts.

Acting state Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq told the committee Common Core would add rigor to the education of students and set higher standards than the ones public schools have consistently failed to meet in the past.

“We don’t say the public schools have failed,” Dumaresq told the committee. “They are transitioning.”

“Every bad idea started out as a good one,” Dinniman cracked in questioning the implementation of Common Core.

PSEA, the state’s largest teacher union, has been called to task by the state’s largest business association, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, for promoting the lie that Corbett has cut $1 billion from state education funding for public schools. The $1 billion was federal stimulus money that is no longer coming to the state since Corbett’s predecessor, Ed Rendell, used it to actually reduce the state budget for public education.

State property taxes, about 80 percent of which go to fund local schools, are a political third rail politicians have traditionally avoided despite continuing cries for relief from beleaguered property owners. There is a move afoot, however, in the General Assembly to replace the property tax by increasing the state income tax from 3.07 to 4.34 percent and the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent.

Secretary of State Carol Aichele told citizens at a meeting in Reading on Thursday that Senate Bill 76 and House Bill 76, sponsored by state Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill) and state Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks), respectively, have no chance of passing despite claims by Cox and Argall they have nearly half of their respective chambers as co-sponsors, including a substantial number of Democrats.

Cox and Argall were not pleased by Aichele’s remarks.

Corbett, who appointed Aichele, has said he would sign either of the bills, if it reaches his desk.

Currently, state, local, and federal taxpayers put $27 billion annually into Pennsylvania’s education system.