Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Report Finds PA School Funding Inadequate, Unfair

Andrea Sears, Public News Service
Pennsylvania schools with the fewest white students receive $2,000 a year less per pupil, according to a new report. (lourdesnique/Pixabay)
Pennsylvania schools with the fewest white students receive $2,000 a year less per pupil, according to a new report. (lourdesnique/Pixabay)

PHILADELPHIA – Years of underfunding Pennsylvania's public schools has led to inequalities affecting low-income districts and communities of color, according to a new report.

The Education Law Center report, entitled "Money Matters in Education Justice," says the Keystone State ranks 46th in the nation for state share of revenue for public schools. And Pennsylvania is one of only 14 states with a regressive funding system, giving the fewest resources to the poorest schools with the highest needs.

According to Deborah Gordon Klehr, the Education Law Center executive director, that has led to glaring racial disparities in education funding.

"Schools with large populations of students of color receive less per-pupil funding overall than schools with a larger white-student population, and they're also shouldering higher local tax burdens," she said.

The report cites research showing that schools with the fewest white students receive almost $2,000 a year less per pupil.

Last year, the state adopted a fair-funding formula designed distribute state education dollars more equitably. But, as Klehr points out, that formula only applies to new state spending.

"Of the $5.9 billion that the state spends on basic education funding, only about 6 percent of that is sent through the formula," she added.

The Education Law Center says children in many communities are being shortchanged and that to address the inequities, the state needs to significantly increase school funding overall.

Klehr notes that the Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees all children will have access to a "thorough and efficient" system of public education.

"Despite this constitutional mandate, many children - especially children of color and children in low-income communities - are not given the necessary educational tools for success," she explained.

Data from the Pennsylvania Department Education and other studies estimate the Commonwealth needs to increase education spending by between $3 billion and $4.5 billion a year.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

House Bill Would Divert More Public Money to Private Schools

Andrea Sears, Public News Service
House Bill 250 would expand two educational tax-credit programs by a total of $75 million. (Jared Kofsky/Wikimedia Commons)
House Bill 250 would expand two educational tax-credit programs by a total of $75 million. (Jared Kofsky/Wikimedia Commons)

HARRISBURG, Pa. – State representatives in Harrisburg on Monday passed a bill that critics say would effectively divert state tax money to private and religious schools and other organizations. HB 250 would expand the Educational Improvement Tax Credit by $50 million, and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit by $25 million. The two programs already allow corporations up to $125 million in tax breaks for supporting private schools.

While not a direct expenditure of state funds, Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, points out that, in practice, HB 250 would accomplish virtually the same thing.

"What it does is, it reduces the money that's available for public education and everything else by $75 million," she said.

The bill's sponsors say HB 250 would expand school choice opportunities and help more students escape from failing schools. But according to Spicka, the law itself rules out verifying that the money actually is achieving that goal.

"The original law explicitly prohibits collecting any kind of information about whether or not students are leaving lower-achieving schools to go to higher-achieving schools, so we really have no idea which students are getting these scholarships," she explained.

The law also prohibits tracking achievement to determine if students perform better in the private schools.

Spicka adds that even families earning more than $100,000 are eligible to receive scholarships, and the schools themselves can pick and choose which students they take.

"These are schools that are allowed to discriminate against any student for any reason," she added. "So they can discriminate against students who are disabled, or are poor, or are students of color, and they can still receive these tax dollars."

HB 250 now goes to the state Senate for its consideration.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Study Finds Undocumented Immigrants Boost PA's Economy

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania pay about $135 million in state and local taxes. (stevepb/Pixabay)
Undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania pay about $135 million in state and local taxes. (stevepb/Pixabay)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Undocumented immigrants pay millions in state and local taxes in Pennsylvania every year, according to a new report.

The study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy gives estimates of the total of sales, real estate, and state and local income taxes paid by undocumented workers in all 50 states. According to Meg Wiehe, director of programs at the institute, undocumented immigrants nationally pay close to $12 billion in state and local taxes each year. She said that would increase another $2 billion if they were allowed to work legally by comprehensive federal immigration reform.

"In Pennsylvania, our report estimates that undocumented immigrants currently contribute around $135 million in state and local taxes," she said, "and that amount would increase by roughly $51 million under reform."

The report noted that many undocumented immigrants also pay federal payroll and income taxes, as well as excise taxes on necessities such as fuel. While immigrants often are portrayed as drains on public resources, they cannot access many of the programs their tax dollars support. Wiehe said she thinks the question that should be asked is whether they're paying their "fair share."

"And the answer is yes, definitively yes," she said. "In fact, they're paying a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than the average taxpayer in the top 1 percent."

On average, the report showed, undocumented immigrants pay 8 percent in state and local taxes, on a par with middle-income taxpayers.

An estimated 137,000 undocumented immigrants are living in Pennsylvania. Wiehe said she believes any mass-deportation policy would cost more than the billions in tax revenue they contribute to the state and nation.

"Forcing out that many people would inevitably entail huge disruptions to the economy, as well as to our social and political fabric, that go far beyond the loss of workers and tax dollars," she said.

A 2010 report from the Congressional Budget Office said full immigration reform at the federal level would generate more than $450 billion of federal revenue over the next 10 years.

More informtion is online at itep.org.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Budget Watchdog: Bigger Military Budget Could Hurt PA

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

A higher proposed military budget would mean cuts to domestic spending and foreign aid. (USAF/Wikimedia Commons)
A higher proposed military budget would mean cuts to domestic spending and foreign aid. (USAF/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – State budgets would suffer under President Trump's proposal for an increase in defense spending, according to a nonpartisan budget research group.

The National Priorities Project says the United States already spends more on defense than the next seven largest military budgets in the world combined.

The proposed $54 billion hike in military spending, or almost 10 percent, would be carved out of domestic spending and foreign aid.

Lindsay Koshgarian, the group's research director, explains states would be huge losers if those cuts take place.

"States get, on average, about 30 percent of their budgets from the federal government, and this is about a 10-percent cut to domestic spending," she explained. "You can definitely expect that to trickle down to the state."

Pennsylvania is already facing a $1.7-billion-dollar budget shortfall for this fiscal year, which could grow to $3 billion by 2021.

Koshgarian points out that many states are dealing with big deficits, and further cuts will only make those deficits worse.

"We can expect to see that, in things like education and local maintenance of roads and things that cities and states primarily take care of, but a lot of federal funding helps to shore those things up," she added.

Democrats in Congress are particularly set against cuts to domestic spending and there is opposition to some of President Trump's proposals among some Republicans as well.

And Koshgarian notes another obstacle to the president's plan. Under the 2011 Budget Control Act, any increase in defense spending must be matched by an increase in domestic spending.

"That is in law right now," she said. "And it would take 60 members of the Senate in order to change that law."

The president has said he will not ask for cuts to Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits or law enforcement.