They say “it’s about the children,” but in reality they’re coming for our money, again. Fasten your seatbelts, my fellow Pennsylvanians, we are about to hit some turbulence courtesy of our courts. Next stop: the state Capitol.

A Commonwealth Court judge issued a 768-page decision about school funding. The judge decided that Pennsylvania — meaning taxpayers — failed to meet its constitutionally required duty to fund education “fairly and equitably.” (Spoiler-alert: there’s going to be a huge push by many politicians and the usual suspects for even more spending, perhaps a lot more.)

The judge ruled that Pennsylvania is not giving every child a fair and equitable education, that too many are falling too far behind. I agree, 1000 percent. It’s an educational, economic, and moral imperative to fix this. But the reality is that we spend more than enough on education. What needs our attention is how we spend it; where it’s spent and what the results are.

Pennsylvania spends more per pupil than 40 other states. Public schools currently have $5.29 billion in cash reserves, plus another $5.46 billion in unspent Covid relief. Nearly $11 billion of our money — money for students’ education — sitting in the bank, just in case. 

Philadelphia’s School District will spend more than $3.9 billion this year for 110,000 students — in yet another year where spending increases while the student population shrinks. Fifty-six percent comes from Pennsylvania taxpayers — and over 52 cents of every dollar spent comes from people who do not live in Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, you and I are being sued because we allegedly don’t spend “enough” on public education.

Charter schools — which are also public schools — get only about 72 cents on the dollar compared to traditional public schools. And there are about 50,000 students on waiting lists to get into charter schools, the enrollments of which are often capped by public school districts not wanting competition. In Philadelphia alone, there are almost 40,000 on wait lists — children waiting and hoping to go to other less expensive, but more effective schools.

Philadelphia parochial schools spend on average under 49 cents on the dollar compared to traditional public schools. Yet, last year the parents of about 74,000 students were denied tax-credit scholarship aid to allow them to send their children to a different school (parochial, Jewish day schools, private schools, Freedom Schools, independent schools) — because the articulation cap on tax credit money ran out. Again, more parents hoping to send their children to less expensive, but more effective schools.

Hopefully, this drives the point home: whatever the problems are in public education, it’s not that taxpayers don’t pay enough. It’s about how we spend it: where taxpayer money goes and how it is used.

The public education industrial complex wants more money from taxpayers. Why? Because they can never have enough money. The usual suspects — the teachers unions, their lobbyists, the special interest groups — never talk about whether a certain school works, whether children are learning, or about whether parents are satisfied. All we hear is that more and more money is needed.

Try to talk about effectiveness or whether children are actually learning and the response is: we need more money — then we will get better results.

Explain that charter schools in the same neighborhoods as traditional public schools teach the same lower-income, single-parent students as the traditional public schools, and they respond with a laundry list of excuses.

Try to talk about the success of a neighborhood parochial school — where, in any given school, up to 90 percent of the students are not Catholic — and, we’re told that taxpayers shouldn’t fund religion. They overlook that every child in that parochial school is there because mom, dad or grand-mom picked it. They overlook, too, that, in fact, public schools are essentially teaching “religions” too, offering classwork to young students about a buffet of social, cultural and politically charged topics. The difference is that poor students aren’t there by choice — they just can’t afford to leave.

Too many public schools are failing our children, leaving them to climb a mountain of challenges that many will not be able to climb.

However, the education establishment in Pennsylvania — spending more per student than 40 other states; with almost $11 billion in reserves — argues that “we” don’t give “them” enough of our money. Sorry, not one more dime for the status quo.

Let’s do what more and more states are doing: have the education funding dollars follow the child. Let parents decide. Let’s lift the artificial cap on charter school enrollment. Let’s raise the cap on tax-credit scholarship aid. Let’s have school choice.

Let the billions of dollars follow the children. Children learn. Parents are in charge. Taxpayers pay so that all children can succeed — having “fair and equitable” opportunities to be their best. That’s the only bottom line that matters.

Guy Ciarrocchi is a former board member of the REACH Alliance, Pennsylvania’s leading school choice organization, and the former Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. Guy writes and counsels on policy and effective advocacy. @GuyCiarrocchi

3 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: Educational success in Pennsylvania requires more choice, not more money”

  1. It’s not that we aren’t spending “enough” it’s that not every district is getting what they need to adequately support their students. Districts in well off areas are able to spend a lot more money on students and teacher contracts than districts in depressed areas. The ruling is simply pointing out that we have an obligation to provide the same level of education to all of our kids and we can’t do that using the current property tax method. It may very well mean that we have to spend more money to get parity, but isn’t the future of our state worth it? In the long run we may find that improved educational systems through out the state mean less money spent on people in prisons and diversionary programs.

    1. It was the same logic used by the NJ supreme court that gave NJ the real estate tax mess that they currently now have. Their schools are still unequal and all the property owners are getting hammered by the real estate taxes.

Leave a (Respectful) Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *