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Making Our Votes Count for the Issues We Care About

By Blog Post

Voting access. Abortion access. Climate change. Public education. Redistricting.

Pennsylvanians continue to focus on critical issues that matter to our quality of life. In 2023, we showed up to elect school boards, local municipal officials, and county commissioners AND to elect judges to our local and state courts. We both voted by mail and went to the polls on Election Day, showing that we want to participate in our democracy in ways that work for us. In fact, voter turnout was higher than in 2021! A couple of key reasons: abortion access continues to be a hot topic, and people are responding to threats to voting rights and seeing, more than ever, the roles that courts play in other critical issues such as protecting our right to a “thorough and efficient” education, which was affirmed in a landmark school funding decision this year. [You can read more about our work on school funding here, including our memo on how education contributes to democracy.]

Many people do not realize that elections happen in years when there is not a high profile presidential or federal election. Pennsylvania Policy Center worked to make sure we mobilized our existing supporters and reached out to new people to remind them about the high stakes involved related to issues they care about. We partnered with Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts to provide critical information about local and state judicial elections to more than two dozen community leaders to support them in communicating with their supporters. We contacted voters directly, promoted the issues on social media, ran online ad campaigns, and collaborated with our allies and partners in Pennsylvanians Together, a statewide coalition of grassroots resistance groups, reaching more than 75,000 people with high-impact content about critical policy issues and civic participation.

Our work continues in 2024 — we will continue to make sure that our voices are represented as we advocate about all the issues that are important to us and will be making sure that we show up for democracy, for our rights and freedoms, and for each other!

Editorial Board Memo on Education Funding in Pennsylvania

By Editorial Board Memo, Policy Briefs, Press Statement

In February 2023, Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer called for a new funding system in Pennsylvania to fulfill the state’s obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education for its children.

The Basic Education Funding Commission has been charged by Governor Shapiro and legislative leaders with developing a response to Judge Jubelirer’s decision in the school funding lawsuit, which held that every student in Pennsylvania should have—but doesn’t have now—access to a “comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education,” as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

The Pennsylvania Policy Center has prepared materials for the Commission that address a number of questions raised during its hearing, drawing on both our own analysis of education policy in Pennsylvania and summaries of the relevant academic research. As members of the General Assembly will ultimately be making the critical decisions about how we fund K-12 education in the state and the public has a strong stake in the Commission’s work, we thought we would share this with you.

This memo summarizes three policy reports.

The first report, Shuffling the Deck Won’t Solve the Pennsylvania School Funding Crisis, addresses the paradox that Pennsylvania has a relatively high level of school funding yet also has a system with the most inequitably funded schools in the country. The result: a majority of Pennsylvania students attends schools that, by the state’s own standards, are inadequately funded. The paper shows that the inequity of Pennsylvania’s school funding is the result of our low state share of K-12 funding. And the inadequacy of funding in most schools, despite a relatively high overall amount of funding, is not just the result of inequity but also arises because the standard set by our constitution requires more than the mediocre school performance found in most states.

The second report, Education Funding and Educational Achievement, reviews the recent academic evidence about the impact of new school funding on student achievement and later-life success. It shows that studies of new state funding of K-12 schools subsequent to court decisions in other states have shown strong, and sometimes, dramatic improvements in the quality  of education.

The third report, The Contribution of K-12 Education to Economic Growth and Democracy, reviews the impressive academic evidence demonstrating that the 19th-century founders of public education in Pennsylvania, starting with Thaddeus Stevens, were right to believe that improvements in the quality of education both strengthen our democracy and lead to faster economic growth.

We summarize the three papers in the rest of this memo.

Editorial Board Memo on Education

PPC Statement on PA Court’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Decision

By Blog Post, Press Statement

The Pennsylvania Policy Center (PPC) joins several of its partners in expressing concern about last week’s Commonwealth Court ruling, which struck down Pennsylvania’s opportunity to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The court’s decision was made along procedural lines and is antithetical to RGGI’s purpose, which is to limit damaging carbon emissions in the state and surrounding region.

“Among the many steps Pennsylvania can, and should, take to limit climate change, joining RGGI is among the most important. Governor Wolf’s decision to join RGGI is justified by the substantial authority the law grants the Governor to protect our environment,” said PPC’s executive director Marc Stier.

This is of even more concern for communities of color and low-income families and is a setback for environmental equity in our Commonwealth. We echo calls for Governor Shapiro to appeal this decision to the Supreme Court of PA so the state can combat climate crisis and its effect on constituents. Additionally, we call on the state legislature to take up the charge to help Pennsylvania and its residents move toward a more equitable clean-energy future.

Shuffling the Deck Won’t Solve the Pennsylvania School Funding Crisis

By Policy Briefs

In February 2023, Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer called for a new funding system in Pennsylvania to fulfill the state’s obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education for its children. But, opponents of increased education funding cite the state’s high per-student spending, compared to other states, as a reason not to increase our total spending on K-12 schools.

The comparison to other states’ spending per student is misleading in multiple ways.

VIEW IN A PDF READER OR DOWNLOAD.

 

shuffling the deck

Education Funding and Educational Achievement

By Policy Briefs

READ IN A PDF READER OR DOWNLOAD.

A year ago, Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer ruled that Pennsylvania violates its constitutional obligation to create a “thorough and efficient” system of school funding. In response, legislative leaders and Governor Shapiro have charged the Basic Education Funding Commission with providing a blueprint for General Assembly action that would meet our constitutional obligation.

In in developing that blueprint, the General Assembly can learn from what other states have done. Seen from a national perspective, Judge Jubelirer’s decision is not an outlier. In response to similar court decisions, about half the states have added substantial state funding of K-12 education in the last thirty years.  In almost every case, the judicial decisions, like that of Judge Jubelirer, focused on the inequity in school funding created by over-reliance on locally raised revenues to pay for schools.

Because Pennsylvania is a latecomer to school funding reform, a generation of our children has been denied a good education. And that is a terrible loss we have all suffered as a result. But the delay gives us the benefit of learning from the large body of research on education and school funding that was stimulated by reform efforts in other states. That research shows us how effective new funding for underfunded schools in Pennsylvania can be in lifting student achievement and in later-life success.

Education Funding and Educational Achievement

 

Parents Have Rights—But Not to Ban Books

By Blog Post, Editorial Board Memo

The Senate is now considering SB 7, a bill proposed by Senator Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster),which would require schools to “identify sexually explicit content in school curriculum, materials, and books and notify parents that their child’s coursework includes such content or that a book their child wishes to view in the school library contains explicit content.” Parents would have to opt in to allow their children and teens to read or view those materials as part of their coursework and in the library. Without an opt-in, the school would provide the child alternate coursework.

Parents do have some rights to limit what their children read and view. And that right is protected, in part, by US constitutional law.

Federal courts have recognized that a state has a right to mandate that all children receive an education that it deems is necessary for them to be well-informed and productive citizens. The state sets the schoolsoverall curriculum and the details are filled in by school boards, which do with the advice of educated and experienced school administrators, teachers, and librarians. These people have expert knowledge about the kinds of materials that, in the current day and age, are important for children to view and read if they are to have an accurate and empathetic understanding of themselves and the world around them.

Especially in matters that touch their moral and religious beliefs, parents have a right to guide the kind of education their children receive. That right was made part of the US Constitution in 1972 in the Wisconsin v. Yoder (406 US 205) decision. And that right has long been exercised in informal ways by parents who have objected to some of the material their children read or view—and schools typically respect parents views.

In fact, parents are already able to monitor the material their children have access to in school. School curricula and library books are all public. Parents can review what their children read and view with them.

So the basic intent of this bill is in keeping with longstanding practice and our constitutional tradition.

The details of the bill are troubling, however, because they could potentially lead to drastically limiting the variety of material to which children can read and view in school, especially with regard to sexual matters.

It is important for that material to be available for two reasons.

First, every child needs accurate, factual, responsible education about sex and sexuality. Age-appropriate information on health, puberty, sexuality, and sexual relationships keeps our children safe. It helps our teens form appropriate and healthy romantic relationships, and it gives young people the language they need to speak up in the unfortunate chance that they are dealing with sexual abuse.

Second, parents sometimes struggle to understand the issues of sexuality and gender identityraised by their children. (And these are not necessarily cases in which parents object to the material to which their children have access). Sometimes parents refuse to accept their child’s sexual identity. In the worst cases, children face abuse in the home because of their identity or are kicked out entirely. Between 20% and 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+ children who have been rejected by their parents, a percentage that is far higher than the 7% of children who identify as LGBTQ+. Children who are unsafe at homeand indeed , all childrendeserve to have safe schools that can provide not only a quality education but also a refuge. And even whenparents do not object to their children’s emerging identities, they sometimes do not how to respond helpfully to children who are struggling with issues of sexuality. In these cases, children often turn to information they find in the classroom and school library, as well as to trusted teachers, counselors, and other educational professionals. Thus, it is important that such educational materials be available to students where they’re best able to access it.

So, the proper policy in this area is one that recognizes the rights of parents to monitor and approve the material their children read and view while ensuring that an appropriate range of such material is available to students generally.

The current bill does not appropriately balance these two considerations.

The kind of material that would require parental opt-in is overly broad. The bill requires that parents opt in to allow access to material that is “sexually explicit” but only defines this term in the language of a form parents would be required to sign to allow their children to read or view such material. According to the bill draft, the form must include this language:

By signing this document I am giving permission for my child to be provided books, handouts and instructional material that may include written or visual depictions of sexual conduct. Sexual conduct is defined in law as “Acts of masturbation, sexual intercourse, sexual bestiality or physical contact with a person’s clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or, if the person is a female, breast.”

The trouble with this language is that it encompasses too wide a range of material. It could include everything from pornographic depictions of masturbation and sexual intercourse to the kinds of bland, yet accurate, discussions of these same topics in books, pamphlets and videos on sexuality and sexual health to the mild and implicit portrayal of sexual conduct that leave almost everything to the imagination. Under the law, all of this material could be categorized as including written or visual depictions of sexual conduct, and thus would require parental approval.

The legislation’s overly broad language would therefore require formal parental approval for most of the material in a sexual health curriculum as well as for most works of fiction that deal with matters of love and romance.

In addition, this overly broad language could be used by school board members and administrators, acting on their own ideological views or those of activists who pressure them, to require opt-ins for works that discuss any topic they disapprove ofeven if they contain nolanguage or images that most of us would consider as depicting “sexual conduct.” The graphic adaptation of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl has been removed from a library in a Florida school because it includes not a depiction or description but merely a short discussion of innocuous same-sex interaction. It is likely that some activist groups would object to any material discussing same-sex, interracial or premarital sexual relationships on the grounds that they depict “sexual conduct” even though the average reasonable adult would reject that characterization.

Once a letter from the school goes home to parents asking them to opt in to material that are said to “depict sexual conduct as described in a opt-in form that include a range of explicitly described activities that includes bestiality, it is likely that many parents, having no other information about the material except for this categorization, will not opt in. There is no way for parents to know how sexual conduct is depicted in material they are being asked to evaluate.

This process is thus biased towards encouraging parents to say no to any material that school administrators either acting on their own or on behalf of others want to call into question for any reason.

The process is biased against parents granting permission in another way. Parents are not always able to stay on top of the many messages they receive from school. That’s especially true for parents who are economically stressed and especially for single parents with multiple jobs. But it can be true for any parent. Parents who are honest with themselves will remember times when they forgot to fill out some important paperwork sent home from school, especially if they did not think the issue raised by the paperwork was important. So it is likely that at least some parents who would approve of the material they are being asked to evaluate will simply forget to sign the opt-in form.

So the opt-in policy, combined with the designation of certain material as “depicting sexual conductin broad terms and parent inattention, would likely mean that a large number of parents might not allow their children to read or view material. Many parents who, with time to thoughtfully consider the specific materials involved, would not object to the age-appropriatecurricula used to teach their kids, will fail to opt-in because opt-in form itself scares them or because they misplace it or forget to send it in.

It would be bad enough if a process that is biased against making important educational material available to students were to limit only those students whose parents refuse to opt in from seeing it. We fear, however, the bias in registering parental sentiment about certain books, pamphlets, or videos would mean that a minority of parents opt-in. This could lead schools to ban those materials entirely. This would undermine the goals of parents who do not object to the material in question, who want their kids to take sexual education courses or read good literature that deals with sexual and romantic life. Students we be denied access to material that trained educators believe is useful for them. And students who are struggling with their sexuality and/or identity would have no acces to material that could help them.

In effect, the opt-in requirement could lead to a policy in which a minority of parents, without engaging the entire community in discussion, have the ability to ban books and other materials in school libraries and school classrooms.

Our teachers, administrators, and school librarians want what is best for our children, and they are already working in stressful, and often underfunded, conditions. Their efforts would be most effective if parents and teachers could work together for the benefit of children and teens.

The design of Senate Bill 7 does not encourage that process; it stifles it.

A better balance between the interests of parents and the well-being of all children would be struck if the policy were revised in two ways.

First, it should require parents to opt out of their children having access to some material related to sex and sexuality. It is likely that parents who are especially concerned about what their kids read or view at school would be those most likely to review information sent home to them about this subject and thus would be able to decide which materials should not be available to their children. These parents could use their ability to opt out to do what they believe is appropriate for their own children without blocking other kid’s access to this material.

Second, the process created by the bill should be more fine-grained and ask parents to opt out of specific books, pamphlets, videos, and other materials that their children might see in the classroom or school library.  The schools could give parents advance notice of such materials used in course work or available in the library and ask them to review those materials. The school and / or groups concerned about material that depicts sexuality in the schools could provide summaries or relevant excerpts for parents to examine so they could make specific, detailed choices for their children.

This is the only way the proposed legislation would protect the rights of all Pennsylvania parentsnot just some.

By requiring parents to opt out rather than opt in to their children having access to certain materials, and by giving parents the ability to opt out of specific books, pamphlets, videos and the like rather than an entire, quite vague category of material, revised legislation would appropriately balance the rights of parents with other important considerations while avoiding the risk of giving a minority of parents power not only to limit what their children see and read but what every child attending the school can see or read.

Is Harrisburg Ready for Change?

By Blog Post, Editorial Board Memo

October 12, 2023

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kirstin Snow, snow@pennpolicy.org

Is Harrisburg ready for change?

Is new leadership showing a new approach to legislating?

Marc Stier, Executive Director

Since Democrats finally took control in March, we have seen the House of Representatives pass a raft of legislation and budget proposals that not only reflect the priorities of Democrats and progressives but also has broad support in the state.

Little of this legislation has be taken up, however, let alone passed, by the Senate. Three months after the start of the fiscal year, the code bills necessary to complete the budget have not been enacted.

Last week, Democrats took a new approach, one that not only has the potential to finish the budget but could radically change the legislative process in Harrisburg for the better.

In three key areas, House Democrats, led by Speaker Joanna McClinton and Majority Leader Matt Bradford, put forward code bills and legislation that are bipartisan in spirit and detail. They advance Democratic priorities but also recognize Republican priorities, albeit in ways that make them more acceptable to Democrats.

Last Tuesday night, the House passed a tax code bill that offers Republicans net loss operating provisions in the corporate net income tax (CNIT) as well as an acceleration of the cut in the CNIT rate passed in the Wolf administration. In return, the Democrats propose to institute combined reporting for the CNIT. Combined reporting would ensure that multi-state and multi-national corporations doing business in Pennsylvania pay taxes to the state and ensure that CNIT rate cuts don’t make the state deficit bigger. Democrats also propose a state earned income tax credit (EITC) that piggybacks on the federal program, a cost-of-living inflation adjustment to the tax forgiveness program, and an expansion of the dependent care tax credit enacted last year with bipartisan support. The bill balances benefits for corporations with benefits for Pennsylvanians with low incomes. And it provides help for Pennsylvanians with low incomes in the form of tax cut programs long supported by Republicans, not spending programs.

Drafts of the education code bill balance authorization for $100 million in Level Up funding for public schools with expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (the other EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC), programs that provide public support for children attending private schools. And it includes a number of reforms to make these programs more transparent and accountable, which Democrats and Republicans who are concerned about waste in government have supported.

The House also considered an election voting bill that changes the date of the Pennsylvania primary and allows county election boards to pre-canvass mail ballots, which both parties want. It adopted a Democratic proposal to change the mail voting process to reduce the number of rejected ballots and to require counties to take steps to help voters fix incomplete mail ballots. It also includes a new voter ID requirement, which Republicans have long supported. To ensure that legitimate voters are not blocked from voting, the plan gave voters many ways to identify themselves and allows everyone to vote provisionally and show their ID at a later time.

The first two bills passed the House. The voting and election bill failed, in part, because Republicans and Democrats reasonably complained that they did not have enough time to consider it and because the voting reforms got cause up in the dispute about moving the upcoming primary.

None of these packages are perfect from my progressive perspective. In particular, I’d like to see same-day registration instituted in return for Voter ID. But any genuine compromise is likely to have elements that people on both sides don’t like.

Two things are truly impressive about these bills, however.

The first is that Democrats are making an effort to forge bipartisan agreements, not just advance their own agenda. They did the same thing earlier this year in passing a minimum wage bill that paralleled as bill introduced by Senator Laughlin, a Republican.

The second is that they are legislating in public rather than behind closed doors. They are putting forward ideas that they know may be disputed or modified on the floor of the House or in the Senate and challenging the Republicans to do the same.

This is an extremely welcome change from the past when key legislative decisions were made in private meetings of a few people. This was always a bad practice. Without public discussion, debate, and votes, it is impossible for voters to know where the two parties stand or for them to weigh in on the merits or defects of legislation.

So far, the Republican response has been mixed. Republicans in the House unanimously opposed the tax code bill. Republican minority leader Cutler even, complained that the bill wasn’t negotiated behind closed doors before it came to the floor.

The reaction of Republican Senate president pro tempore Joe Pittman to the tax bill was quite different. He called the bill “intriguing” and a “step in the right direction.”

We can hope that, as a new leader, Senator Pittman’s response indicates the potential for Republicans to embrace this new approach to legislating. If both parties in the General Assembly and Governor Shapiro embrace this new legislative approach, they can work out some of the kinks in it by starting the public process of deliberation and debate earlier, giving both parties time to consider legislation in detail. (The House Democrats tried to do this on the budget by passing a budget proposal in the beginning of June, long before the deadline.)

If this new legislative practice takes hold, both parties and our representative democracy will benefit. And Pennsylvania will show other states—and the US Congress—how democracies can best function.

 

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The Pennsylvania Policy Center aims, through its research and policy development, to create the tools that political officials, opinion leaders, grassroots organizations, and the people of PA need to expand our vibrant democracy, secure our freedom, and seek economic justice in Pennsylvania.


Pennsylvania Policy Center

What Would an Equitable Voucher System Look Like?

By Blog Post, Op-Ed

Pennsylvania’s Republican legislators support a voucher program they say is meant to help a small number of students who attend schools they claim are failing. (They don’t mention that those schools are also severely underfunded.) However, these legislators and their supporters, including billionaires Betsy DeVos and Jeffrey Yass, have made no secret that their ultimate goal is to replace our public schools with a system of private schools financed by vouchers.

It is doubtful that such a plan could meet the requirements of the Pennsylvania Constitution. When the education clause was added to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1873, it specifically required funding of “public schools.” And, changing the words to “public education” in the constitutional revision of 1967 does not alter the import of the phrase.

Could a voucher plan be designed to meet the two goals for public education held by the framers of the Pennsylvania Constitution? The first was to provide an equal opportunity for all students to make the best use of their talents and abilities, not just to benefit themselves but to benefit our economy and democracy. The second was to ensure that every student is prepared to take part in our representative government, beginning with a firm understanding of our country’s ideals.

What would a voucher system crafted to attain these goals look like?

First, all private schools that accept vouchers would be required to teach the basics of American political institutions and ideals and our ideals of freedom and democracy for all.

Second, private schools would have to be prohibited from discriminating against students based on political ideology, income, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status.

Third,  any voucher system would need to ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to get a comprehensive education, even though some families have a greater financial ability to pay tuition than others. We also know that children growing up in poverty, and those who are English-language learners, need more resources to get an equal education. This would require some combination of the following policies:

·           A sliding scale that provides a larger voucher for parents with lower incomes and English-language learners.

·           Given spending at the best public schools in the state exceeds $25,000 per student and tuition at the best private schools in the state often exceeds $40,000, voucher amounts would have to be substantially higher than found in any current legislation to make those schools broadly accessible.

·           A cap on private school tuition or a requirement that any private school that accepts vouchers take them as full payment for students who come from families below a certain income threshold.

Fourth, to ensure that schools meet these requirements—and to stop the graft, fraud, and waste that afflict voucher-funded private schools wherever the system has been implemented—private schools would be required to file extensive reports on their practices and the quality of the education they provide.

And, fifth, there would have to be guarantees that voucher levels and the funding for them would increase with inflation in education costs. Failing to do that would ensure that access to the best and most expensive schools in the Commonwealth would increasingly be limited to families with higher incomes.

None of these provisions are in the voucher proposals Republicans put forward this year. Their current plan gives a voucher of fixed amount to all students that is far below the cost of the best schools, and it only caps the income of the families eligible to receive vouchers at Governor Shapiro’s insistence.

It’s also clear that many of the elite and religious private schools would reject rules and regulations designed to create an equitable education system. Almost none are willing to open their doors to all. Few of them welcome disabled students. Many of them will not admit students who are pregnant, have had an abortion or have children.  And many insist on teaching ideas that conflict with well-established science, such as creationism, or that are inimical to the ideals of freedom and democracy.

While the Republicans’ current voucher plan is small, the experiences of other states such as Arizona, show us that once small voucher programs are instituted, state funding will increasingly be diverted to vouchers that help only a small number of kids while draining public schools of funding.

The Republicans’ failure to put forward a voucher plan with the features described above, along with their unwillingness to fund the current education system at higher levels, calls into question their commitment to meet the goals for public education set by our constitution: an adequate and equitable education for all.

Instead, we should assume that the real goals of Republican legislators and their billionaire supporters in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are shown not just in their manifestos but in the policies they support. Their aim appears to be to destroy our public schools, reduce taxes on the rich, and give those with high incomes vouchers to send their kids to high-quality private schools while everyone else’s children get a second-rate education. That is a path to a permanent economic and political elite—not the political and economic democracy sought by the framers of our state’s constitution.

Senate Again Refuses to Fund State’s Most Dire School Districts

By Blog Post, Pennsylvania Policy Center, Press Statement

Senate Again Refuses to Fund State’s Most Dire School Districts – Marc Stier, Executive Director, Penn Policy Center

“The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate came back today for a rare August session. It took a step toward completing the budget by passing a code bill on several uncontroversial issues. However Republican senators have failed to pass a code bill with language that would allow the expenditure of $100 million for Level Up for the state’s 100 least-well-funded schools.

Senate Republicans keep talking about helping kids in so-called “failing schools.” The only schools that don’t provide a good education are those that are underfunded and that, today, they failed again to fund.”

Economic Opportunity, the Dignity of Work, and the Minimum Wage

By Blog Post

Raising the minimum wage has always been about the dignity, as well as the wages, of working people. We who place so much value on our ability to provide for ourselves and our families should recognize the importance of ensuring a dignified living wage for all full-time workers. 

Yet during the debate on the minimum wage in the Pennsylvania House in May, Republicans in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives showed us what they think of low-wage workers. They proposed amendments to the minimum wage bill that are classic examples of blaming the victim. One would exclude workers without a high school degree, or the equivalent, from the protection of the minimum wage. Another would require workers to pass a literacy test to earn the minimum wage.  

These representatives—many of whom come from districts in which ten percent or more of the population do not have a high school degree and who complained about the government protecting their lives by requiring them to wear masks—must believe that hard-working people need their paternalistic hand to tell them how to live their lives. 

These amendments show us that too many Republicans are motivated by a toxic individualism that assumes people making low wages are at fault for not trying hard enough while those of us who make higher wages deserve all the credit for doing so. 

I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town in upstate New York where I had friends from every economic class. I learned then how much our economic success is a product of luck as well as pluck.  

As a young child, I was surprised when I visited friends whose families had few, if any, books in their homes. But I was not surprised when, in later years, they didn’t read as well as my upper-middle-class friends did. And some of us who did well in school had the advantage of pre-K education or of parents who had the time and expertise to support us in school or who could pay for extra help. They could also pay for the private lessons in science and art, as well as summer camps, that stimulated our minds. These advantages were not available to our friends who came from families with lower incomes.  

As a teenager, I—like my friends, poor and rich—did a lot of stupid things, that sent some of us on a downward path. But those of us who came from upper-middle-class families were protected from the mistakes we all made—like getting in trouble with the police, goofing off at school and failing a class or two, being forced to leave college or an apprenticeship program, getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant. We could afford lawyers, tutors, private guidance counselors, and trips to a state where abortion was legal. When we made mistakes, we got second or third chances. Our friends from low-income families had far less margin for error. When they made the mistakes that we all make, they had to drop out of high school or college and take a dead-end job to provide for the children they had when only young themselves.  

When we looked for summer jobs, those of us who came from middle-class or union families had connections that helped us get jobs that paid well and / or gave us the kind of help we needed to get ahead in the future. Some of us could take unpaid internships that helped us get into a better college. Our friends from low-income families without those connections started at the bottom in jobs with little future.  

That’s not to say that those of us who had the right parents didn’t work hard to get where we are today. We did work hard as teenagers and young adults, and we work hard at our jobs today. But our friends who didn’t have the same opportunities we did also worked hard then and still do today. But they didn’t have the opportunities, or even more importantly, the extra chances that we had. Some of them, with extraordinary talent and ambition, did manage to make it into the upper middle class. But many did not. And some have struggled their whole lives, no matter how hard they have worked.  

Unequal opportunities in our society—as well as an economy dominated by large corporations that hold wages down for working people—are why we must ensure that Pennsylvanians receive a living wage that respects their hard work. 

For if we are honest with ourselves, none of us are self-made people. And as the philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen once expressed: Anyone who thinks they are self-made is no credit to their maker. 

STATEMENT: The (First Part) of the Budget Standoff Is Over

By Blog Post, PA Budget, Press Statement

After Governor Shapiro signed the General Appropriation bill today, the Pennsylvania Policy Center released the following statement by our executive director, Marc Stier:

“Today, Senate Republicans blinked in the budget standoff with Governor Shapiro and Democrats. Thanks to the increasing pressure from social service providers and school districts worried about the delay in receiving state funding and the public, which supports them, the Republican leadership agreed today to bring the Senate back to session to allow the General Fund appropriations bill to be sent to Governor Shapiro. The Governor just signed it after issuing his promised line-item veto of $100 million for the voucher program.

Today’s action does not mean that the 2023–24 budget is complete, however. In Pennsylvania, what we call “code bills” are needed to authorize some of the spending in the appropriation bills, including the Level Up program, which provides additional funding for the least-well funded schools in the Commonwealth; the Whole-Home Repairs program, which helps low- and moderate-income families fix up their homes; and funding for Governor Shapiro’s welcome initiatives for school mental health programs and indigent defense. We call on the Senate and House to reach an agreement on authorizing the expenditure of these funds as soon as possible.

The budget is also incomplete without appropriations for the four state-related universities: Penn State University, Temple University, Lincoln University, and the University of Pittsburgh. Students from Pennsylvania at these universities will see a dramatic increase in tuition if the General Assembly does not enact funding for them.

We are glad that the General Appropriation bill is now law. But we cannot applaud this budget as a whole. At a time when the state has an accumulated surplus of $13 billion, this budget should do far more to meet the constitutional mandate to fully and fairly fund our K-12 schools.

The budget that was passed by House Democrats in early June and supported by Senate Democrats did far more for our schools and included other initiatives that Senate Republicans have rejected, including

  • the creation of a state earned income tax to help families with low incomes.
  • more funding for subsidized child care and pre-K education.
  • additional funding for gun violence prevention, which is reduced from last year’s level in the current budget at a time when those programs are are having a positive impact in cities around the state.
  • new funding called for by a state commission last year for adult mental health.

Other critical needs of Pennsylvanians have not received sufficient funding in the 2023-24 budget including the parents of 90,000 3 and 4 year olds who do not have access to pre-k education.

And, Pennsylvania workers are still waiting for a long overdue increase in the state minimum wage. While raising the minimum wage is not done through  budget legislation, it does have an impact on the budget by both reducing expenditures and increasing revenues.”

Penn Policy Center Statement on PA Budget Passage

By Blog Post, Press Release, Press Statement

July 5, 2023

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kirstin Snow, snow@pennpolicy.org

Penn Policy Center Statement on Budget Passage

Governor Shapiro’s letter announcing that he would line-item veto the appropriation for vouchers in the budget passed by the Senate last week clears the way for the House to also pass the budget and send it to the Governor for his signature.

Enacting a budget that doesn’t include a voucher plan is a victory, especially because that plan would have likely been a first step toward the destruction of public education in Pennsylvania. We are grateful to Democrats in both the House and the Senate for standing strong against vouchers.

Sadly, while the enacted budget is likely the best that can be achieved at this date, it is not a good one. While it includes bout a 5% increase in total spending, after taking inflation into account, the increase is not substantial. If not for what House Majority Leader Matt Bradford aptly called the “distraction” of the voucher issue, Governor Shapiro could and should have worked more closely with the Democrats in the legislature to reach an agreement with Senate Republicans on a better budget, one closer to the budget passed by the House a month ago. Such a budget would have:

  • provided the additional funding for basic education, special education, the Level Up program, and the remediation of toxic schools needed to meet the requirement of the Commonwealth Court decision on school funding.
  • invested more than an additional $50 million in the Whole-Home Repairs program.
  • provided more funding for subsidized child care and pre-K education.
  • excluded a cut in funds for gun violence prevention, at a time when those programs have had some positive impact in cities around the state.
  • included a long overdue increase in the minimum wage in our state.

And at this point, the General Assembly has not passed funding for Temple, Pitt, and Penn State, which means that in-state tuitions at those institutions, which is already among the highest in the country, will skyrocket.

These and many other needed public investments in higher education, —which we will detail in a more complete review of the budget in a few weeks—could have been paid for by the accumulated $13 billion surplus without raising taxes on Pennsylvanians.

So while avoiding the worst outcome, this budget fails to deliver all that Pennsylvanians need from our state government.  Democrats in the General Assembly and the House Democratic leadership did step forward this year and enacted a far better budget than we have seen in many years. But they didn’t get the help they needed from the governor to get their plans enacted against the opposition of Senate Republicans.

 

The Pennsylvania Policy Center creates the tools that political officials, opinion leaders, grassroots organizations, and the people of PA need to expand our vibrant democracy, secure our freedom, and seek economic justice in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Policy Center

 

Saving Public Education in Pennsylvania, Where It Began

By Blog Post, Op-Ed

Originally published on PennCapital-Star.com

The budget stalemate in Harrisburg hasn’t been primarily about whether some budget line items go up or down by a few hundred million dollars. Those kinds of disputes are easy to resolve. Rather, it’s been about whether Pennsylvania will start down a radical, extremist path that leads to the destruction of public education in our state.

As we celebrate the birth of our country, we should remember that public education is central to the ideals that led to, and grew out of, American independence. And we in Pennsylvania should resolve not to compromise those ideals as the state passes its budget this year.

The American Revolution was not just a political revolution against the King and Parliament. It was also a social revolution against the hierarchal society they represented, a society in which everyone knew and kept in their place. It was a revolution to give all white men, no matter whether they started out poor or rich, real freedom and an opportunity to better themselves—and, in doing so, contribute to the well-being of the whole country. Over the following 200-plus years, we have expanded their vision and still seek freedom and opportunity for all people, no matter what they look like, no matter their gender, and no matter who they love.

Creating opportunity for all does not just mean tearing down the barriers of aristocracy. Founders like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams realized that unless access to a good education was available to all, opportunity would be limited to only a few.

They also realized two other things. First, the future of the country required our citizens to have a civic education centered around American ideals. And second, the rapidly growing economy in the early 19th century needed workers who would only get the necessary education if it were publicly provided.

Cities, towns, and villages provided free public education as early as 1639. Many colonies and every new state after 1776 required local communities to create public schools.

As it became clear that the benefits of public education spread far beyond local communities, states began to support those schools. Under the leadership of Thaddeus Stevens, who was the great educator before he became the great liberator, Pennsylvania became the first state to do so in 1834.

Private schools have always existed alongside the public schools, and Pennsylvania today offers business tax credits that provide $350 million in support for private schools.

But Republican extremists from outside Pennsylvania, like billionaire Betsy Devos, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, have always wanted much more: a radical, voucher-based alternative to the public school system in every state. When Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court plainly said that our public schools are inadequately and inequitably funded, Republicans lied and said it called for more support for private schools.

And now the Senate Republicans are holding the state budget hostage for what looks like a small investment in vouchers. That Betsy Devos and other billionaire extremists embraced it, however, shows us that the ultimate goal of the program is the total replacement of public schools. States that have taken the first step in this direction, like Ohio and Arizona, have been traveling down that slippery slope ever since they first enacted a voucher program with declining funding for public schools.

What would be wrong with a privatized school system?

Most importantly, it would be an elitist system, in which wealthy parents would supplement state vouchers to attend schools that were far better funded than the schools the rest of our children could attend. The promise of America, to offer real freedom and equal education to all, would come to an end. England’s rigid class system, which our founders sought to displace, would be recreated here.

This elitism would not only block the way forward for working people, it would especially affect Black and brown people, who have far fewer resources to attend private schools but receive no more under the voucher plan proposed here and in other states. A privatized education system would be an inherently racist one.

Second, our children would no longer attend schools that teach American ideals. There are too many who attend schools that teach religious ideas that conflict with our ideals and that undermine respect for science and rational thought itself. And the private schools attended by the wealthy would, implicitly or explicitly, teach their students that they are members of the elite, who deserve to rule over the rest of us.

And third, economic growth, which grew because of our huge investment in public schools and the skills and talents of our people, would slow down as fewer people have access to an excellent K-12 education and the opportunities for further education and training it creates.

Like the British monarchs and aristocrats before them, the wealthy elitists who back vouchers think that America’s success depends on people like them having outsized political and economic power.

We need to remind them and their supporters, among whom are Republican legislators and Governor Shapiro, that the success—and the soul—of America depends on fairly and fully funded public schools that provide opportunity and freedom for all.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Update on PA Budget Negotiations

By Press Release
July 3, 2023

For Immediate Release

Contact: Kirstin Snow, snow@pennpolicy.org

Update on Budget Negotiations

With $13 billion in accumulated surplus and a budget from the governor that proposed modest additions to state spending on policies that have broad support, one would expect that making a budget deal would be easy.

Yet the budget deadline came and went.

House Democrats passed a budget four weeks ago with more funding for a number of programs, including education, where they added to basic education funding and special education funding, and added the popular Level Up program back into the budget. They then passed a minimum wage bill that was not perfect but would put Pennsylvania on a path to $15. Governor Shapiro embraced both plans.

Senate Republicans passed a profoundly flawed budget, at the last minute, that rejected most of the House plan. Its worst element, however, was the inclusion of a $100 million down payment on a radical plan, sponsored by extremist billionaires like Betsy Devos and Jeffrey Yass, to destroy our public school system. Then they left town.

The House Democrats had already made clear that there will be no voucher program adopted this year or for as long as they are in the House majority. (And given that their stance on all the critical issues is totally aligned with the majority in public polls, they may well be in the majority for a long time.)

So, we’re back to square one.

How did we get here?

First, negotiations started later than usual. There were new political circumstances: a Democratic House majority that did not really take power until the special elections in March, a new governor, and new leadership in the Senate. The new people, with power in their hands, had to take time to build relationships, internally and externally, and learn the ropes of the budget process.

Second, in an extraordinary display of political chutzpah, having lost the education funding case in court, the Republicans tried to twist the decision—which calls for a new, fair system of funding public schools—into a mandate to radically restructure our education system by privatizing schools.

Third, the Republicans not only misread the opinion of the courts but may have misread Governor Shapiro as well. The governor signaled his willingness to support a modest Lifeline scholarship program during his campaign and has continued to do so ever since. However, his support was contingent on funding public schools fully and fairly. When public schools are so radically underfunded, any allotment of money for vouchers takes away critical funds from these schools. And the Senate Republican budget does far less than the House Democratic budget. While the Governor has not been as clear as we’d like, we hope his unwillingness to embrace the Senate budget indicates that he’s having second thoughts about the school voucher plan. As he thinks about his political future, the Governor must be concerned that the endorsement of the Senate plan by anti-government extremists Betsy Devos and Grover Norquist reveals that Republicans see Lifeline scholarships not as a supplement to public schools, but as a foot in the door for a radical restructuring of education funding in Pennsylvania.

Fourth, it appears that many Republicans don’t understand that they lost the last election: in fact, their gubernatorial candidate lost in a landslide. They lost the House majority for the first time in over a decade. While Senate Republicans did not lose seats—mostly because that chamber remains more gerrymandered than the House—the political landscape has shifted. But Republican expectations have not shifted with them.

The Republicans can legitimately claim a role in setting funding levels in the budget. But there seems to be a faction among Senate Republicans that is taking its cues from national Republicans, who think they can hold hostage any necessary government action—whether it is a state budget or an agreement to avoid default—until they get their way, no matter how radical their proposals are. This is, sadly, a product of the belief among Republican extremists that theirs is the only legitimate governing party. That, however, is not the view of most Pennsylvanians. Democrats here in Pennsylvania are not going to embrace extremist, radical ideas in the budget process any more than President Biden allowed it in Washington.

And fifth, Senate Republicans apparently believe that any delay in the budget will be blamed on Governor Shapiro. They fail to understand that, even before his effective leadership in managing the recent I-95 repair, the governor is widely admired and is in the best possible position to wait for them to accept political reality. And the Governor surely understands that the radical intent of the Lifeline program is deeply unpopular with Democrats, not just in Pennsylvania but around the country.

The House Democrats have accepted political reality. They have enacted many of their proposals (which are, frankly, progressive) but have done so in ways that have not pushed the envelope; and on many issues, they have won Republican support. When the Senate Republicans recognize political reality as well, they will be able to strike a budget deal with the House Democrats and Governor Shapiro.

###

The Pennsylvania Policy Center creates the tools that political officials, opinion leaders, grassroots organizations, and the people of Pennsylvania need to expand our vibrant democracy, secure our freedom, and seek economic justice in Pennsylvania.

www.pennpolicy.org

Update on Pennsylvania Budget Negotiations

By Blog Post

With $13 billion in accumulated surplus and a budget from the governor that proposed modest additions to state spending on policies that have broad support, one would expect that making a budget deal would be easy.

Yet the budget deadline came and went.

House Democrats passed a budget four weeks ago with more funding for a number of programs, including education, where they added to basic education funding and special education funding, and added the popular Level Up program back into the budget. They then passed a minimum wage bill that was not perfect but would put Pennsylvania on a path to $15. Governor Shapiro embraced both plans.

Senate Republicans passed a profoundly flawed budget, at the last minute, that rejected most of the House plan. Its worst element, however, was the inclusion of a $100 million down payment on a radical plan, sponsored by extremist billionaires like Betsy Devos and Jeffrey Yass, to destroy our public school system. Then they left town.

The House Democrats had already made clear that there will be no voucher program adopted this year or for as long as they are in the House majority. (And given that their stance on all the critical issues is totally aligned with the majority in public polls, they may well be in the majority for a long time.)

So, we’re back to square one.

How did we get here?

First, negotiations started later than usual. There were new political circumstances: a Democratic House majority that did not really take power until the special elections in March, a new governor, and new leadership in the Senate. The new people, with power in their hands, had to take time to build relationships, internally and externally, and learn the ropes of the budget process.

Second, in an extraordinary display of political chutzpah, having lost the education funding case in court, the Republicans tried to twist the decision—which calls for a new, fair system of funding public schools—into a mandate to radically restructure our education system by privatizing schools.

Third, the Republicans not only misread the opinion of the courts but may have misread Governor Shapiro as well. The governor signaled his willingness to support a modest Lifeline scholarship program during his campaign and has continued to do so ever since. However, his support was contingent on funding public schools fully and fairly. When public schools are so radically underfunded, any allotment of money for vouchers takes away critical funds from these schools. And the Senate Republican budget does far less than the House Democratic budget. While the Governor has not been as clear as we’d like, we hope his unwillingness to embrace the Senate budget indicates that he’s having second thoughts about the school voucher plan. As he thinks about his political future, the Governor must be concerned that the endorsement of the Senate plan by anti-government extremists Betsy Devos and Grover Norquist reveals that Republicans see Lifeline scholarships not as a supplement to public schools, but as a foot in the door for a radical restructuring of education funding in Pennsylvania.

Fourth, it appears that many Republicans don’t understand that they lost the last election: in fact, their gubernatorial candidate lost in a landslide. They lost the House majority for the first time in over a decade. While Senate Republicans did not lose seats—mostly because that chamber remains more gerrymandered than the House—the political landscape has shifted. But Republican expectations have not shifted with them.

The Republicans can legitimately claim a role in setting funding levels in the budget. But there seems to be a faction among Senate Republicans that is taking its cues from national Republicans, who think they can hold hostage any necessary government action—whether it is a state budget or an agreement to avoid default—until they get their way, no matter how radical their proposals are. This is, sadly, a product of the belief among Republican extremists that theirs is the only legitimate governing party. That, however, is not the view of most Pennsylvanians. Democrats here in Pennsylvania are not going to embrace extremist, radical ideas in the budget process any more than President Biden allowed it in Washington.

And fifth, Senate Republicans apparently believe that any delay in the budget will be blamed on Governor Shapiro. They fail to understand that, even before his effective leadership in managing the recent I-95 repair, the governor is widely admired and is in the best possible position to wait for them to accept political reality. And the Governor surely understands that the radical intent of the Lifeline program is deeply unpopular with Democrats, not just in Pennsylvania but around the country.

The House Democrats have accepted political reality. They have enacted many of their proposals (which are, frankly, progressive) but have done so in ways that have not pushed the envelope; and on many issues, they have won Republican support. When the Senate Republicans recognize political reality as well, they will be able to strike a budget deal with the House Democrats and Governor Shapiro.

 

Pennsylvania Policy Center Statement on PA Senate’s Proposed State Budget

By Blog Post, Press Statement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date: June 30, 2023

Contact: Kirstin Snow, Communications Director, snow@pennpolicy.org, 215-510-9336

 

Harrisburg, PA – Marc Stier, executive director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, today released the following statement after the Senate passed House Bill 611, a 2023–24 General Fund Budget, on a 29–21 party-line vote.

“The budget passed on a party-line vote by Senate Republicans is utterly unacceptable to the people of Pennsylvania. Its worst element is the inclusion of a $100 million down payment on a radical plan, sponsored by extremist billionaires like Betsy Devos and Jeffrey Yass, to destroy our public school system. That money is diverted from the $200 million the House added three weeks ago to the Level Up program, which helps the 108 least-well-funded school districts in the state. With this choice, and their rejection of the House plan to add $100 million to the Governor’s request for basic education funding and $50 million for special education, the Senate is appearing to ignore the Commonwealth Court’s demand that the state fix our unconstitutional system of funding our public schools.

There are other flaws in the Senate Republican budget plan:

·      Apparently, it does not anticipate putting Pennsylvania on a path to a minimum wage of $15.

·      It assumes that reductions in the Corporate Net income Tax will be accelerated without closing the loophole that allows 70% of the corporations that operate in the state, most of which are wealthy, multi-national businesses to pay zero dollars in taxes, even though they hire employees educated in taxpayer-funded schools and use the roads and bridges the people of Pennsylvania pay for.

·      It provides less funding in multiple areas where the House Democrats boosted the Governor’s budget, including community colleges, the Keystone Communities program, grants to college students, child care services, and child care assistance.

·      It provides no funds to the four state-related universities.

The one bright spot in the Senate Republican budget is that it funds job training programs at a higher amount than the Governor or House proposed. Investment in this area is critical to improving our economy, creating jobs, and helping working people do better. We hope that the expansion of these programs can secure bipartisan support in the future.

The state has ended the fiscal year with a $13 billion surplus. There is plenty of money to make a far greater down payment on meeting our moral responsibility to fund our public schools fully and fairly as the state’s constitution dictates, as well as to invest more in helping Pennsylvanians secure affordable child care and affordable post-secondary education. We think most Pennsylvanians will be disappointed by this failed budget.

###

 

The Pennsylvania Policy Center creates the tools that political officials, opinion leaders, grassroots organizations, and the people of Pennsylvania need to expand our vibrant democracy, secure our freedom, and seek economic justice in Pennsylvania. 

www.pennpolicy.org

Pennsylvania Policy Center Update on Pennsylvania Budget

By Blog Post, Press Statement

With $13 billion in an accumulated surplus and a budget proposal from the governor that only proposed modest additions to state spending on policies that have broad support, one would expect that making a budget deal would be easy.

Yet the budget is due today, and no deal is imminent. While House Democrats passed a budget weeks ago, not only is no resolution in sight but it appears that a great deal more work needs to be done to reach one.

Why?

First, it seems like negotiations started later than usual. There were new political circumstances: a Democratic House majority that did not really take power until the special elections in March, a new governor, and new leadership in the Senate. The new people with power in their hands had to take time to build relationships internally and externally and learn the ropes of the budget process. And they were all wary of taking bold steps that might come back to haunt them.

House Democrats decided to move first and passed a bolder budget than the one proposed by the Governor, with more funding for education and new funding for the Level Up program and other critical priorities. Then they passed a minimum wage bill that was not perfect but would put PA on a path to $15. Governor Shapiro embraced both plans.

Senate Republicans, however, have been holding back—apparently, for a number of reasons.

First, they don’t seem to understand that Republicans lost the last election: they lost the governor’s race by a landslide. And, they lost the House majority for the first time in over a decade. While Senate Rs did not lose seats—mostly because that chamber remains more gerrymandered than the House—the political landscape has shifted. But Republican expectations have not shifted with them.

Second, there seems to be a faction among Senate Republicans (there certainly is in the House Republican caucus) that is taking their cues from national Republicans, who seem to think that they can hold any necessary government action—whether it is a state budget or an agreement to avoid default—hostage until they get their way. This is, sadly, a product of the belief among Republican extremists that they are the only legitimate governing party.

Third, Senate Republicans apparently believe that any delay in the budget will be blamed on Governor Shapiro. What they fail to understand is that, even before his effective leadership on the I-95 issue, the governor is in the best possible position to wait—if necessary, for a few weeks or more to reach a budget deal.

Fourth, despite losing in the courts, Republicans have been trying to twist the Commonwealth Court decision, which calls for a new, fair system of funding public schools, into a mandate to radically restructure how we fund our schools by privatizing them. This, together with their willingness to hold the budget hostage to their demands, has led Senate Republicans to make their school choice voucher program, Lifeline Scholarships, a top priority.

And fifth, Governor Shapiro, perhaps inadvertently, encouraged the Senate Republicans by reiterating what he said on the campaign trail—that he was not opposed to Lifeline scholarships provided they did not take away from funding public schools. Senate Republicans took his statement and ran with it despite two problems. First, when schools are so radically underfunded, any money for vouchers takes away critical funds from public schools. And second, it became quickly apparent that the Republicans see Lifeline scholarships not as a supplement to public schools but as a foot in the door for a radical restructuring of education funding that Democrats will never support. The appearance of a letter signed by anti-government extremists Betsy Devos and Grover Norquist in support of the Lifeline Scholarship program has made that abundantly clear.

Last night, the House Democrats, who have been the most consistent and straightforward players at the table, made it clear that there will be no Lifeline scholarship program adopted this year or as long as they are in the House majority. (And given that their stance on all the critical issues is totally aligned with the majority in public polls, they are likely to be in the majority for a long time.)

So, we are back to square one. The House has put a fiscally sound budget on the table that makes a strong down payment on meeting the constitutional and moral obligation to fund our schools. They have passed a good minimum wage proposal. They have recognized that they might not get everything they want in a final deal but have told everyone what they want.

It’s time for the Senate Republicans to recognize political reality and come to the table with the House Democrats and Governor Shapiro and strike a deal.