EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, November 9, 2007

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News
    - Public Education Funding Survey
    - PA Education Finance Symposium
    State Board of Education – Costing-Out Report
    Pennsylvania Bulletin
    Research and Reports

    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.

    Public Education Funding Survey

    Nearly nine in 10 Pennsylvanians believe that public school students should have equal access to high quality education and that the state government is responsible for guaranteeing this access, according to a poll released this week by The Education Policy and Leadership Center.

    Only 30 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “Pennsylvania’s system of funding schools is fair,” and 84 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that the state should pay at least half the cost of local schools’ education expenses. Sixty-two percent “strongly agreed” that the state should pay a greater share of school costs than the approximately 36 percent it does now.

    More than nine in ten respondents said that the quality of public schools varies among school districts, and 46 percent said that they felt the quality varies “a great deal.” Respondents agreed strongly that effective public schools are vital to the future of the state and local economies, and many are disappointed with the job they are doing now. About half – 51 percent – said that they thought the state’s schools were doing an excellent or good job of preparing students for college, and 44 percent said they thought the schools were doing a good job of preparing students for the job market.

    While respondents were divided about how efficiently their schools spend current funds, 65 percent agreed with a statement that their local district needs more money to provide students with a quality education. Few respondents – just 8 percent – said that either their own schools or those around the state spend too much. About a third – 37 percent – said they thought their own schools spent too little, and 54 percent said they thought that public schools around the state in general spend too little to adequately educate their students. At the same time, 79 percent of those polled said they “strongly” agreed that all public schools in the state should be held accountable for how well they prepare their students, but just 26 percent “strongly” agreed that they are actually held accountable now.

    When told about wide disparities in spending among districts in Pennsylvania, respondents agreed that the state should contribute more. But there was no consensus on how the state should raise additional money to send to local school districts. Thirty-one percent said an increase in the state sales tax would be the “fairest” way, 14 percent said an increase in the income tax, and 43 percent preferred raising “some other state tax.” Thirteen percent said they didn’t know.

    Pennsylvania is consistently ranked among the lowest states in funding equity with a gap in resources between the highest and lowest spending school districts among the largest in the nation. This is due to the relatively small share state government contributes to total statewide education costs –about 40 percent compared to a national average of almost 50 percent. As a result, the system is excessively dependent upon local property taxes, and, due to variance in local wealth, some districts spend three times as much as others. The state’s education costing-out study, to be released November 14, is expected to find that many students are in school districts that lack adequate resources to support programs necessary to bring them to academic proficiency, given their educational needs and socio-economic circumstances.

    The telephone survey of 800 randomly-selected Pennsylvania adults was conducted between September 17 and October 8, 2007. Participants were asked about their thoughts and opinions regarding the quality, performance and funding of public education both in their local schools and across the state of PA. The full poll can be accessed at www.eplc.org.

    PA Education Finance Symposium

    EPLC’s annual Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium takes place next week on November 15-16 at the Radisson Penn Harris in Camp Hill (just outside of Harrisburg).

    The program will feature a Thursday presentation on Pennsylvania’s new education costing-out study, a Thursday state policymakers panel, and a Friday presentation by Education Secretary Jerry Zahorchak. Other sessions will look at current proposals for property tax relief/elimination, the proposed statewide finance reform commission, proposed statewide school employees health benefits program, the work of the Task Force on School Cost Reduction, and more. The Radisson Penn Harris has extended the conference room block, so the special rate is still available. A complete Symposium agenda, along with hotel and registration information, is available at www.eplc.org/financesymposium.html.

    The Pennsylvania State Board of Education will receive the much anticipated statewide Costing-Out Study at a meeting on Wednesday, November 14 at 3:00 p.m. in the State Museum in Harrisburg. EPLC will provide information about the Study in a special e-mail and on our web site soon after the Study is released.

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education will hold a hearing on Thursday, December 6, 2007 on four applications received to establish cyber charter schools. For details on the hearing, see www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol37/37-44/2032.html.

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education will hold public hearings to solicit input on the Perkins IV Five Year State Plan. Hearings will be held December 4 in Monroeville, December 5 in Pleasant Gap and December 6 in Schnecksville. A detailed hearing schedule is available at www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol37/37-44/2033.html.

    The National Center on Education Statistics recently released a report on “Public School Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2005” that includes information on library collections and services, staff, operating revenue and expenditures, and more.

    State Representative Jerry Nailor has announced he will not seek re-election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The Cumberland County Republican has served in the House since 1989.

    The November 2 edition of Education Notebook, in reporting on a hearing conducted by the House Education Committee concerning HB 1841 which proposes to create statewide health benefits program for school employees, incorrectly reported that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers "opposes the plan." The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has not taken a position on the proposed legislation. The Philadelphia School District is not included in the proposed legislation.

    Next Week...

  • The Pennsylvania General Assembly returns to session on Tuesday, November 13.

  • The House Education Committee meets Wednesday to consider House Bill 1841, which addresses a statewide benefits system for school employees.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets Wednesday and Thursday. The Board is scheduled to release the state’s education costing-out study at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

  • Teachers College and Columbia Law School host the third annual symposium on “Equal Education Opportunity and the Courts” in New York City on November 12-13.

  • EPLC hosts its annual Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium in Camp Hill on November 15-16.

  • For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

    EPLC Education Notebook is published by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Permission to reprint or electronically redistribute the Notebook in whole or in part is granted provided attribution to EPLC is provided.

    The Education Policy and Leadership Center is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization. The Mission of EPLC is to encourage and support the enactment and implementation of effective state-level education policies in order to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

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