Throwing more money at a problem before addressing the cause of that problem is never a wise investment.
It’s no secret that Pennsylvania’s education system is failing many of our students.
According to 2023 U.S. News education rankings, Pennsylvania ranks 36th in overall quality of education. Meanwhile, we have the eighth-most expensive system in the nation and our average cost per student is $22,000. Lack of funding is not the problem, but how that money is spent must be scrutinized to ensure that our kids get the quality education they deserve.
Take the School District of Philadelphia for an example. Recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that Philadelphia ranks near the bottom nationally for both math and reading when compared to similar urban districts.
From 2019-2022, the district saw it steepest decline in math and reading scores since 1990 despite spending an annual budget of more than $4 billion.
Families failed by their local education system have increasingly turned to alternatives such as homeschool and charter schools.
What’s the remedy?
According to Democrats on the Basic Education Funding Commission, the solution is a reckless infusion of additional taxpayer dollars to a failing system.
The commission’s partisan majority report, backed by Democrats and members of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration, calls for more than $7 billion in additional spending.
What’s not included in their recommendations? There are no accountability measures or metrics for student success. They include no additional scholarship funding for families who seek alternative options to help their kids escape failing schools. There are zero improvements to curriculum transparency so parents can know what their children are learning.
The General Assembly has already increased state taxpayer spending for education by historic amounts in recent years. Since 2020, taxpayer spending on education has increased by more than $3 billion. Sadly, that has not been accompanied by an improvement in quality.
How much of that new taxpayer money will go to help students and teachers? Unfortunately, not as much as you think.
While Pennsylvania’s public-school population has declined, the growth of school administration staff has accelerated by almost 40 percent since 2000. Most new funds will ultimately be diverted to pay for bloated salaries and pension payments for those unnecessary additional administrators.
The financial burden of a $7 billion infusion of taxpayer funds will be placed squarely on the backs of hard-working Pennsylvanians.
The nonpartisan Independent Fiscal Office already predicts that by 2025, Pennsylvania will face a $3 billion state budget shortfall based on current budget projections.
The massive spending binge recommended by Pennsylvania Democrats means our state would need more revenue to offset the increase.
Pennsylvania already has one of the worst property tax burdens in the nation to pay for education budgets.
More than 10,000 homes are seized annually in Pennsylvania and auctioned off for failure to pay the tax. It is particularly troubling that most of the home seizures are from our elderly residents. Retirees live on limited-fixed incomes and additional irresponsible state spending could leave them faced with the stark choice of paying for food, medicine or their property tax. This is simply unacceptable.
Property taxes would increase in all 67 counties to pay for the kind of spending increase recommended by Pennsylvania Democrats.
An increase in the state sales tax and income tax also would likely be on the table in future sessions of the General Assembly to offset budget shortfalls.
As we head into the 2024 budget season, we must protect Pennsylvanians and make fundamental changes to improve how we spend taxpayer funds for education. The money should follow the child and parents should have the right to choose how and where to educate their own children.
Blind spending of additional taxpayer dollars will not fix the fundamental problems of our education system.
Sen. Doug Mastriano represents the 33rd Senatorial District, covering Adams and Franklin counties. He serves as vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.