Why, yes, spending more money on schools does yield better results | Thursday Morning Coffee

April 18, 2019 7:08 am

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

It’s an eternal argument: If you spend more money on public education, will you necessarily get better results?

Progressives have long argued that this is the case. If you don’t give districts adequate funding and adequate tools, then it doesn’t matter how dedicated the teacher, or how committed the parent or administrator, children will inevitably fall behind.

Conservatives, meanwhile, have argued that more cash is useless without baked-in accountability measures for that spending — along with parental and community engagement.

In a new op-Ed, exclusive to The Capital-StarMichael Churchill of The Public Interest Law Center says there’s no escaping it: “Pennsylvania districts with more resources are higher achieving.”

Well, yeah. But read on:

“Every year around state budget time, there is a fair amount of nonsense that attends the decision of how much money the state will give to our public schools. This obscures the central fact that a bold state funding investment is needed to make sure all Pennsylvania students can thrive. I hope this essay will provide a bit of clarity both for public officials and for the public at large.

“The most recent example comes from a conservative “think tank,” the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, which tried to claim that increased state funding would not yield academic gains among the students benefiting from the investment.

“The Institute’s analysis is a class example of “garbage in, garbage out.” It reaches its conclusion by looking at state spending in school districts completely absent of context. It does not examine the relationship between total district spending and achievement, and ignores the fact that state educational aid is meant to make up for deficiencies in local tax bases. It uses bizarre subsets of the data to reach conclusions, which only serves to prove that its analysis cannot withstand the weight of the real-world evidence.

“The unvarnished truth about state funding is that Pennsylvania’s state share of education costs is nearly the lowest in the nation, placing most of the burden on local district taxpayers. Not only does this result in high property taxes, but it especially harms children in poorer communities whose parents cannot tax themselves hard enough to compete with wealthier districts.

It looks like this:

“For decades, advocates for public education have been calling for Pennsylvania to use state funding to close the gap between rich and poor districts so that all children have the opportunity for an education that prepares them for their future.
Even so, another unvarnished truth is that Pennsylvania has the worst gap in total school funding between rich and poor of any state in the nation.

“The accompanying table shows that spending and academic achievement are indeed strongly related. It looks at expenses for actual student instruction – not including transportation, debt service, and other such costs. In 2016-17, that median cost was $9,184 per weighted student, meaning that half of the school districts spent more, and half spent less.

“This analysis reveals that when total spending increases by $1,000 per funding formula weighted student, academic achievement increases.

“Every time total spending decreases, the percentage of high-performing schools decreases.

“It is true that money isn’t everything; but money isn’t nothing. Of course school districts need to spend money responsibly; but they can’t spend it responsibly if they don’t have it to begin with.

“The state itself acknowledged as much four years ago when it revised the formula for distributing state money. The formula drives more money to poor districts, and it recognizes that it costs more to teach some children than others. Poverty costs more in lots of ways. Learning English as a second language costs more. These are complications that cannot be responsibly ignored.

“Taking all this into account, it becomes clear that our schools, on the whole, are under-funded by billions of dollars. We found in 2015 that it would cost more than $4 billion to provide every school with the level of per-student funding that high achieving districts receive, taking into account the funding formula’s considerations for poverty and other factors. Every comprehensive study of school funding over the past 20-30 years has reached a similar conclusion.

“Even knowing this, we as a state continue to allow heartbreaking conditions to exist in our poor and, increasingly, middle-class schools.

“A flaw in the system that AIPP properly points out is the annual decision to hold school districts harmless in the distribution of state funds. That is, every school district every year cannot get less state funding than it received the year before, no matter what. This leads to districts with declining populations getting larger per-student state school funding.

“However, we shouldn’t make too much of this. If hold harmless was eliminated, and existing state school funding was distributed according to the funding formula, it still wouldn’t close the opportunity gap for poor and middle-class students. More funding is needed and, as our analysis shows, more money does produce higher achievement.

“Let’s hope that this is the year when Pennsylvania makes real progress toward closing the worst opportunity gap in the nation – and one of the lowest funding rates in the nation. Today’s children can’t wait, and shouldn’t have to wait, for full education funding to become a reality.”

Our Stuff:
So who’d vote against naming an official state amphibian? Stephen Caruso was burning up to know. Here are the six people who voted against the Eastern Hellbender. This is why people hate politics.  
Elizabeth Hardison finds former Gov. Tom Ridge throwing some shade on the Trump White House’s plans to cut federal support for those with disabilities.
We ruminate a bit on state lawmakers finally managing to realize that, when it comes to matters of criminal justice, their actions have consequences across the spectrum.

Philly’s population grew slightly for the 12th year in a rowThe Inquirer reports, citing new Census data.
The Harrisburg schools voted down a resolution to comply with state auditorsPennLivereports.
Meanwhile, Sacramento is now bigger than Pittsburgh, The Post-Gazette reports, also citing new Census data.
The NRA has filed an injunction seeking to keep Pittsburgh from enforcing its new gun rulesThe Tribune-Review reports.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

And more Pa. counties are losing population than gainingThe Morning Call reports, crunching even more new Census data.
BillyPenn says Philly’s new version of street-sweeping is … dusty.
Philly Mayor Jim Kenney is urging planners to look for other locations for a long-planned safe injection site, WHYY-FM reports.
The Incline profiles a Pittsburgh writer-turned-cop-turned-writer (got all that?). explains how police officers are using needle sticks to catch impaired drivers when breath tests fail.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., raised close to $500K in Q1 of 2019, PoliticsPA reports.
A statue of Johnny Cash will replace a Civil War statue in the U.S. Capitol, Roll Call reports.

What Goes On.
10:30 a.m., Dauphin County Technical School, 6001 Locust Lane, Harrisburg: Pa. Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman
 and some high school kids talk about shutting down your phone to prevent distracted driving.

Gov. Tom Wolf 
heads waaaaaaay northeast with stops in Towanda and Bradford, Pa., to plug his RestorePA plan.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Mallory Gricoskie in Gov. Tom Wolf’s office. Congrats and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation. 
Here’s an old favorite from The Go-Betweens to get your Thursday morning rolling. It’s ‘Surfing Magazines.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Boston hung on to win 6-4 on Wednesday, evening up its series with Toronto. The Bruinsand ‘Leafs are tied at two games each in their Eastern Conference playoff series.

And now you’re up to date. 

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.