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Pennsylvania Voters Believe Wealthy Individuals and Profitable Corporations Are Not Paying Their Fair Share

By Blog Post

Income and wealth are highly concentrated at the top in Pennsylvania, a situation that has worsened greatly in recent decades. Pennsylvania voters rightly believe that corporations and wealthy individuals aren’t paying their fair share to fund the government services and infrastructure we all depend on.

In November and December of 2022, Data for Progress conducted a survey of registered voters nationally to gauge voter support towards state action to ensure that profitable corporations and the wealthy are paying their fair share of taxes. The national survey was then used to estimate opinion at the state level for Pennsylvania, using a machine learning model trained on nationally representative survey responses linked to a commercial voter file.

There is no question that Pennsylvania’s voters are supportive of statewide policies that require those at the top to pay their fair share. Voters are looking to Pennsylvania’s elected leaders to hold corporations accountable and create a system of equity in transparency in how much they actually pay in taxes. Pennsylvanians want public services, and especially fairly and fully funded schools, to be funded throughout the state and believe that wealthy Pennsylvanians should be paying their fair share to provide them.

Statewide Results: Percentage of Pennsylvania voters who agree with the following statements:

Profitable corporations and wealthy individuals are not paying enough in state taxes ……………82%
State lawmakers should do more to hold accountable corporations who avoid paying taxes. Corporate profits have skyrocketed and taxpayers need transparency about how much profit corporations make and whether they pay their fair share of taxes………………………………………………………84%

 

Click here for estimates of registered voter support for profitable corporations and wealthy individuals paying more in taxes by state House district.

Click here for estimates of registered voter support for profitable corporations and wealthy individuals paying more in taxes by state Senate district.  

Survey Results: Support for Higher Taxes on Profitable Corporations and Wealthy Individuals by PA Senate District

By Blog Post

In November and December of 2022, Data for Progress conducted a survey of registered voters nationally to gauge voter support towards state action to hold profitable corporations and the wealthy accountable to pay their fair share of taxes. The national survey was then used to estimate opinion at the state level for Pennsylvania using a machine learning model trained on nationally representative survey responses linked to a commercial voter file. In addition, estimates were made of public support in each state House and Senate district.

Click here for state-wide results.

Perhaps surprisingly, the differences between Senate districts held by Democratic and Republican legislators are not all that great. Registered voters in both Democratic and Republican districts overwhelmingly support increasing taxes on profitable corporations and wealthy individuals.

The highest support percentage in Democratic districts was 92%, the lowest was 82%. The average support percentage in Democratic districts was 86%. The highest support percentage in Republican districts was 84%, the lowest was 75%. The average support percentage in Republican districts was 80%.

Support for Higher Taxes on Profitable Corporations and Wealthy Individuals by Senate District

wdt_ID DISTRICT Senator Support % Party
1 1 Nikil Saval 91% D
2 2 Christine Tartaglione 88% D
3 3 Sharif Street 89% D
4 4 Art Haywood 89% D
5 5 James Dillon 85% D
6 6 Frank Farry 81% R
7 7 Vincent Hughes 90% D
8 8 Anthony Williams 89% D
9 9 John Kane 83% D
10 10 Steven Santarsiero 83% D
DISTRICT Senator Support % Party

Survey Results: Levels of Support for Higher Taxes on Profitable Corporations and Wealthy Individuals by PA House District

By Blog Post

In November and December of 2022, Data for Progress conducted a national survey of registered voters to gauge voter support towards state action to hold profitable corporations and the wealthy accountable to pay their fair share of taxes. The national survey was then used to estimate opinion at the state level for Pennsylvania using a machine learning model trained on nationally representative survey responses linked to a commercial voter file. In addition, estimates were made of public support in each state House and Senate district.

Click here for state-wide results.

Perhaps surprisingly, the differences between PA House districts held by Democratic and Republican legislators are not all that great. Registered voters in both Democratic and Republican districts overwhelmingly support tax increases on profitable corporations and wealthy individuals.

The highest support percentage in Democratic districts was 92%, the lowest was 81%. The average support percentage in Democratic districts was 86%. The highest support percentage in Republican districts was 84%, and the lowest was 71%. The average support percentage in Republican districts was 78%.

Support for Higher Taxes on Profitable Corporations and Wealthy Individuals by House District

wdt_ID House District Represenative Support % Party
1 1 Patrick Harkins 87% D
2 2 Robert Merski 84% D
3 3 Ryan Bizzarro 83% D
4 4 Jacob Banta 81% R
5 5 Barry Jozwiak 77% R
6 6 Brad Roae 77% R
7 7 Parke Wentling 83% R
8 8 Aaron Bernstine 75% R
9 9 Marla Brown 80% R
10 10 Amen Brown 90% D
House District Represenative Support % Party

We Can’t Fix Education By Shuffling The Deck

By Blog Post

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.

To begin with, it does not consider variations in the cost of living and education expenses. Pennsylvania’s education spending per student is below the average of the 11 New England and other Mid-Atlantic states that are closest to Pennsylvania with regard to the costs of education.

In addition, overall levels of funding skirt the core issue in Judge Jubelirer’s decision—that in Pennsylvania, school funding is highly inequitable from one school district to another. The evidence presented to Judge Jubelirer, and confirmed by multiple research studies, shows that

  • the state’s share of K-12 education spending is among the lowest in the country.
  • Pennsylvania school districts thus must rely on funds raised by local taxes.
  • the state’s few, relatively wealthy school districts can provide far more funding for schools, even at low and moderate local tax rates, than the many relatively less wealthy school districts can provide with high local tax rates.
  • as a result, school funding in relatively less wealthy school-districts, which disproportionately teach students from low-income families, as well as Black and brown students, are drastically underfunded and provide an inadequate education.

The high level of spending in a few districts pushes up our state average, but the majority of our kids are still left behind.

Finally, national funding comparisons are irrelevant because the goal required by the constitution is not to provide an education that meets national achievement averages—which are not high—but an education that enables every child to receive a “comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education.” Studies comparing education in the United States to that in other advanced countries cast doubt on of students’ achievement levels in the United States. We should demand our kids get an education in Pennsylvania that is as good as the best in the world—not as good as the average level found in the United States today.

Some legislators suggest reallocating funds from well-funded districts to meet this goal—but this approach is both impractical and impolitic. It is impractical because the funds that push some school wealthy districts to the top are not state funds but their own locally raised revenues. And it is impolitic because no General Assembly majority can be formed that eliminates all state funding to wealthier school districts or that shifts the revenues those districts raise locally to other districts.

So how do we rectify this problem? The Basic Education Funding Commission must

  • use the spending of high-achieving schools as a model to estimate how much each school district should spend per student—also known as adequacy targets—adjusting spending levels for various kinds of students that, on average, may cost more to adequately educate than other students. These adequacy targets must be comprehensive in including the costs of pre-K, special education, and mandated state costs.
  • set a goal for new state funding that increases the state share of K-12 expenses to ensure that every underfunded district receives the resources needed to provide an adequate education that meets state standards.
  • create realistic expectations about what level of funding local school districts must provide and mechanisms to encourage school boards to meet them.
  • develop a comprehensive plan that the General Assembly can implement over five years to provide every school district with the funding it needs to meet the all-inclusive adequacy targets.

Education, Democracy, and Economic Growth

By Blog Post

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.

As the Basic Education Funding Commission moves from fact-finding to the decision-making phase of its work, this is a good time to recognize that we all have a stake in its deliberations. The best way to do that is to review the reasons that Pennsylvania’s Constitution has an education provision at all. Why, in other words, did those who wrote our Constitution believe that K-12 education is so important?

The ultimate source of the provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution that underlies Judge Jubelirer’s decision are the ideas of great statesmen of the past who recognized that the health of our democracy and economy ultimately rests on a “thorough and efficient” system of K-12 education. And the leader in the effort to create a public school system in Pennsylvania was Thaddeus Stevens. Before he was called the “great liberator,” for authoring constitutional amendments ending slavery as a member of the US House of Representatives, Thaddeus Stevens was known as the “great educator.” As a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives he was a champion of public education. His famous 1835 speech opposing repeal of the common school law he had previous help create sets out the fundamental reasons that K-12 education is so important. Stevens said, “If an elective republic is to endure for any great length of time every elector must have sufficient information, not only to accumulate wealth and take care of his pecuniary concerns, but to direct wisely the Legislature, the Ambassadors, and the Executive of the nation.” The themes of democracy and prosperity are found elsewhere in his speech and in the public statements of those who added the education clause to the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1874 and revised it in 1968.

If the importance of K-12 education was just based on 19th-century ideas, we might pause at investing more state funds in our schools. However, the educational ideals of Stevens and the founders of our Constitution are supported by two decades of research showing that better K-12 education contributes to the vigor of both our democracy and economy.

A recent comprehensive report that summarizes a great deal of research shows that quality civic education leads to greater knowledge about the way our democracy works, stronger skills in critical thinking and collaborative action, greater respect for democratic norms and the rights of others, a greater sense of trust in one another and our political system, and higher rates of participation in public life.

The evidence for the positive impact of good public education on our economy is even broader.

Cross-national comparisons show that both additional years of schooling and higher quality schooling, as measured by standardized tests, leads to a higher productivity workforce and thus higher per capita gross domestic product. The increase in education levels since the 19th century has been estimated to account for between one-fifth and one-third of economic growth in the United States.

Cross-state research confirms these findings. High-wage, and thus high-prosperity, states are those with a well-educated workforce. And school achievement levels are highly correlated—and are likely the cause of—faster economic growth in the states.

Sadly, partly because of our failure to adequately fund K-12 education (but also because we underfund workforce training and higher education), Pennsylvania falls at about the middle of the 50 states in GDP per capita. This is a sad decline from our early 20th century position as one of the economic engines, not just of the United States but the world. But new investment in K-12 education could reverse this decline. The best evidence we have suggests that if academic achievement in Pennsylvania matched that of the highest-ranked state in the country, Minnesota, in two generations our state’s GDP per capita would be roughly 225% higherthan it would be with our current levels of academic achievement.

The great leaders who founded our public education system were prescient. The path they set us on is largely responsible for our preserving our democracy and enhancing our prosperity and democracy. We who reaped the benefits of their decisions must emulate them now. We must ensure that the education we provide our children and grandchildren protects our democracy and creates an economy even more prosperous than today.

Education Funding and Education Achievement

By Blog Post

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 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 of 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 as a result, we have all suffered a terrible loss. 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 their later-life success.

There was a time when scholars doubted that levels of school funding made much difference to educational outcomes. The famous Coleman Report of 1966 held that the economic well-being and education of parents made far more difference to education than school funding.

But with new statistic techniques, revaluations of the report and its successor have cast doubt on that conclusion.

And the natural experiments created by court-ordered school funding to underfunded school districts—which are disproportionately attended by students from low-income and Black and brown families—have shown that new school funding makes a huge difference both to educational achievement and the later-life success of students.

One of the best new studies, by Jackson, Johnson, and Persico, found that increasing spending by 10% benefits all children and especially those from low-income families for whom

  • the probability of high school graduation increases by roughly 10 percentage points.
  • adult hourly wages go up by 13%.
  • later-life family income goes up by 17.1%.
  • the likelihood of being married and never divorced increases by 10 percentage points.
  • the annual incidence of adult poverty declines by 6.1 percentage points.

Studies of new education funding in the states of Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Vermont, and other states provide additional evidence that new funding makes a difference to student performance while raising outcomes especially for students from low-income families.

And another study that aggregated the result from  over 30 similar studies provides striking evidence that new funding to schools can make a significant difference in student outcomes regarding test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance. Students from all backgrounds benefit—Black, brown, and white and from low-income, moderate-income, and high-income families. But students from lower-income families benefit more. Higher levels of education spending can partly overcome the inequality generated by our economy and create real equality of opportunity for our children.

This new research has been so impressive that Eric A. Hanushek—a leading academic expert who has cast doubt on the idea that new funding will lead to better education and was the lead expert for the defense in the Pennsylvania school funding lawsuit—recently acknowledged that the preponderance of recent evidence shows that school funding does make an important difference to educational outcomes.

Hanushek points out—and we agree—that money must be spent wisely. But the same research that shows that new funding makes a difference also shows that underfunded schools spend that new money exactly how we would think they should—on recruiting and retaining better teachers, reducing class sizes, and making pre-K programs universal.

In responding to Judge Jubelirer’s ruling, Governor Shapiro and the Pennsylvania General Assembly don’t have to reinvent the wheel or take a shot in the dark. They must follow the path laid down by other states and substantially boost state funding, which would allow every school district in Pennsylvania to provide an education that meets the requirement of our constitution. We have every reason to believe that doing so will lead to better graduation rates, student achievement, higher wages and, in time, a stronger economy.

Why Pennsylvanians Should Reject Vouchers

By Blog Post

Why Pennsylvania Should Reject Vouchers

Susan Spicka, Education Voters PA
Diana Polson, Keystone Research Center
Marc Stier, Pennsylvania Policy Center

Here we quickly summarize three major reasons why the General Assembly should not adopt a new voucher program.

  1. Voucher-funded schools do not offer educational choice for families and students. They use public dollars to support schools that engage in discrimination against many families and students.

Voucher programs do not create educational “choice” for many families and students. Instead, voucher programs create the illusion of “choice” because private and religious voucher schools can—and do—engage in discrimination and refuse to enroll students, even if their family is eligible for a voucher. We have seen this in the tax-credit voucher programs already in place in Pennsylvania. In 2022–2023, the Pennsylvania legislature authorized the diversion of $340 million tax dollars out of the state treasury and into private and religious voucher schools through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. Private and religious voucher schools that receive tax dollars through these programs engage in blatant and explicit discrimination against students because of their religious beliefs, academics, disability, LGBTQ+ status, because they are pregnant, have children or have had an abortion, and morePennsylvania’s EITC and OSTC.[1] (See Ed Voters report: https://bit.ly/voucherdiscriminate.)

Many voucher-supported schools have not served children well. There is high turnover in the schools, whether because the education they provide is unsatisfactory or because schools push student out. In Indiana, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, roughly 20% of students leave voucher programs every year. In Florida, 30% of students do not return to a voucher-supported private school. And many schools that have been created to receive vouchers soon close. More than 40% of the private schools receiving vouchers in Wisconsin have failed or closed since the program began.

  1. Vouchers do not provide choice to students because they mainly go to students who already attend private school.

Partly because private schools that receive vouchers are allowed to discriminate in choosing students, the vast majority of students who receive vouchers are already attending private school. In Arizona, 80% of students who received vouchers never attended public schools; the number was 89% in New Hampshire; 75% in Wisconsin; and 70% in Florida.

  1. Every public dollar funding tuition at a private school leaves fewer dollars available to be spent in the state budget, undermining the Commonwealth’s ability to fully and fairly fund public schools, which educate all students.

The recent Commonwealth Court ruling found that Pennsylvania’s grossly inadequate and inequitable system for funding public education is unconstitutional. Allocating state tax dollars to fund private and religious voucher schools does not help the state to meet its constitutional requirements. Instead, directing public dollars into voucher schools that are free to discriminate against children makes compliance with the court ruling harder to achieve.

States that started small voucher programs—such as Arizona, Florida, and Iowa—have seen them grow in to near-universal programs.[2] And that growth has been accompanied by a diversion of state support from public schools. Meanwhile, as some students move to private schools, state support for public schools declines even though school districts’ fixed costs for administration and building maintenance are unchanged.

That is exactly what we have seen in Pennsylvania’s experience, over the last decade, with the ETIC and OSTC tax-credit vouchers, including this year. Every year, increase funding for public schools in our state—which have barely covered the cost of inflation and state mandates—have come at the political cost of adding funds for the tax credit-vouchers. A new voucher program would deepen the problem and lead to further diversion from public schools to private schools, making it impossible for the state to meet its constitutional and moral obligation to ensure that every student in Pennsylvania receives an adequate and equitable education.

  1. Research fails to show that vouchers improve student achievement; recent studies show they are harmful.

Voucher experiments have been going on, mostly in small cities,[3] over the last several decades—long enough for there to be a body of research on the impact vouchers have on student achievement. A review (2011) of earlier research into voucher programs found that there was little difference in achievement levels between voucher students and public school students, and with only occasional positive effects of vouchers on student achievement.[4] It’s important to know that these early studies were mainly of relatively small city-based programs.

Recent research on larger voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington D.C., has found more negative achievement outcomes in voucher programs. Studies in these locales found voucher programs have a negative or neutral impact on student achievement.[5] Very concerning effects were documented in the Louisiana study; researchers found  losses in math of nearly 0.5 standard deviation, which is more than double some estimates of the effects of the pandemic on learning loss. These findings have been found to persist over time as well.[6]

Research on Ohio’s EdChoice program showed students in voucher programs fared worse on state exams than their peers who remained in public schools. An evaluation of Washington D.C.’s voucher program also found that in their first year with a voucher, students had worse achievement in math than students who applied for the program but did not receive a voucher.[7] A similar trend was found in research on the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program—students in voucher programs experienced an achievement loss in math compared to public school students.[8] Research on vouchers has shown that the larger the program the worse the results tend to be for students in voucher programs.[9]

[1] See Education Voters’s comprehensive report on discrimination in tax-credit supported voucher schools in Pennsylvania, https://edvoterspa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/EDVO_VOUCHER_REPORT_Dec2023.pdf.

[2] A good overview of these and other programs and their effect on public schools, with additional citations, is Iris Hinh and Whitney Tucker, State Lawmakers are Draining Public Revenues with School Vouchers. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, June 12, 2023, https://www.cbpp.org/blog/state-lawmakers-are-draining-public-revenues-with-school-vouchers.

[3] Joshua Cohen, “Apples to outcomes?” Revisiting the achievement v. attainment differences in school voucher studies,” Brookings, September 1, 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/apples-to-outcomes-revisiting-the-achievement-v-attainment-differences-in-school-voucher-studies/.

[4] Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober, “Keeping Informed about School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research,” Center on Education Policy, 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20120104011514/http://www.cep-dc.org/displayDocument.cfm?DocumentID=369. A Keystone Research Center study 13 years earlier reached similar conclusions: see also Alex Molnar, “Smaller Classes, Not Vouchers, Increase Student Achievement,” Keystone Research Center, 1998, https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED448225. 

[5] Jonathan N. Mills, Anna J. Egalite, Patrick J. Wolf, “How Has the Louisiana Scholarship Program Affected Students? A Comprehensive Summary of Effects after Two Years,” Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, February 22, 2016, https://educationresearchalliancenola.org/files/publications/ERA-Policy-Brief-Public-Private-School-Choice-160218.pdf; R. Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, “Impact of Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 37, Issue 4, 783-808; David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik, “Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program: Selection, Competition, and Performance Effects,” Thomas Fordham Institute, July 2016, https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED575666.pdf.

[6] For more information see Joshua Cohen’s piece, “‘Apples to outcomes?’ Revisiting the achievement v. attainment differences in school voucher studies,” Brookings, September 1, 2022,  https://www.brookings.edu/articles/apples-to-outcomes-revisiting-the-achievement-v-attainment-differences-in-school-voucher-studies/. Also see: Matt Barnum, “Do voucher students’ scores bounce back after initial declines? New research says no,” Chalkbeat, April 23, 2019, https://www.chalkbeat.org/2019/4/23/21055489/do-voucher-students-scores-bounce-back-after-initial-declines-new-research-says-no/.

[7] Reading results were not statistically significant. Mark Dynarski, Ning Rui, Ann Webber, Babette Gutmann, Meredith Bachman, “Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program,” National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, June 2017,  https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20174022/pdf/20174022.pdf.

[8] Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, “Impact of Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 37, Issue 4, 2018, 783-808.

[9] Joshua Cohen, “Research on school vouchers suggests concern ahead for education savings accounts,” Brookings, August 15, 2023, https://www.brookings.edu/articles/research-on-school-vouchers-suggests-concerns-ahead-for-education-savings-accounts/.

Statement on Completion of PA State Budget

By Blog Post, Press Statements

Six months after the general appropriation bill was passed by the Pennsylvania House and Senate and signed by Governor Shapiro, the House, and Senate today took the necessary step to complete the state budget by passing the Fiscal and School Code bills. These code bills are necessary for two reasons. First, some of the previously appropriated funds cannot be spent without the programmatic instructions found in the code bills. Second, some elements of what we think of as the budget consists of tax credits that cannot be included in the General Appropriation bill.

Like any bill that must pass a House controlled by Democrats and a Senate controlled by Republicans, the School and Fiscal Code bills contain many compromises.

From our point of view, it is unfortunate that the School Code includes an additional $150 million in funding demanded by the Senate for our existing tax-credit-based school voucher programs, the Education Improvement Tax Credit, and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit. But while we believe these programs are a problematic use of the tax dollars that should go to our public schools, the program has been tweaked a bit to reduce the amount of overhead that the organizations that pass funds to private schools can keep: from 20% to 10%. Some minor  accountability measures have been added to the program but it appears that the full suite of accountability measures that House Democrats have proposed—which would finally allow us to understand who, if anyone actually benefits from these programs—were not included. Schools that received tax-credit vouchers  will continue to be able to discriminate based on religion, disability, LGBTQ+ status of students of their parents, academic performance and on the basis of whether a student is pregnant or has had an abortion.

We are also distressed that the $100 million in Level Up funding for our most severely underfunded schools was not included in the Education Code.

On the other hand, there are some important programs—detailed below and championed mostly by Democrats the Senate and Housethat will benefit students in our public schools and community colleges, as well as working people who are caring for children or seniors.

We detail these good programs below. But what this compromise should show us is that those who say there is no tension between vouchers and public school funding are mistaken. Over the last ten years or more, Republicans have continued to hold public school funding and other programs hostage to continued funding of our existing school voucher program.

Much of the language in the School and Fiscal Code bills deals with housekeeping matters that are not subject to much controversy. However, a few important decisions have been made after a long discussion between the parties.

SCHOOL CODE (HB 301)

Educator Pipeline Support Grant Program. This program provides grants of $10,000 to student teachers or $15,000 if the student teachers work in a school with high turnover. This is an important program that will help address our teacher shortage.

Libraries. The School Code authorizes an additional $70.47 million in subsidies to public libraries across the state.

Student Teacher Flexibility. This provision will allow retired teachers to be hired as substitutes without losing their pensions. This is another program that will help address our teacher shortage.

Mental Health. The School Code transfers $100 million appropriated for COVID relief to the School Safety and Security Fund. Ninety million dollars in funds will be distributed to school districts, career and technical schools, charter and cyber charter schools, and intermediate units to enhance student mental health treatment.

Environmental Repairs Program. The Environmental Repairs Program will provide grants to school districts, career and technical schools, charter and cyber charter schools, and intermediate units for the abatement or remediation of environmental hazards in school buildings including the abatement or remediation of lead.

FISCAL CODE (HB 1300)

Some of the important elements in the Fiscal Code have been moved from the Tax Code, including the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.

Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. This part of the fiscal code enhances a program that was initiated in last year’s budget, a state tax credit for the costs of caring for children and other dependents (such as seniors) when such care is necessary for taxpayers to hold a job. The language in the Fiscal Code increases the amount of tax credit that Pennsylvanians can take. The current child care tax credit is increased from 30% to 100% of the federal child care and dependent tax credit.  The size of the child care tax credit is based on income. The largest  biggest tax credit would now be $2,100, up from  $630, under current state law for  families making with an income  $43,000 who spend  $6,000 or more on  care for two children.

Public School Facility Improvement Grant Program. This program will be established in the Commonwealth Financing Authority to provide grants to school districts and career and technical education centers for upgrading facilities. The $100 million in the General Appropriation bill for Level Up will be transferred to this program.

Environmental Repairs Program. The Fiscal Code transfers $75 million in unallocated appropriated funds to the Environmental Repairs Program established in the School Code.

Indigent Defense. The Fiscal Code establishes an indigent advisory committee within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. This will allow the $7.5 million in the General Appropriations bill to be spent on indigent defense. Pennsylvania has long been one of the few states that does not provide state funds to protect the constitutional right to an attorney.

WHAT REMAINS UNDONE

Earlier this week, our new advocacy campaign Pennsylvanians Together held an event with Santa Claus pointing to 13 pieces of legislation that the House had passed but that had not passed, or even been considered, by the Senate. You can find that list here.

Unfortunately, of the great pieces of legislation on that list, only the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit is found in the bills that have, or will be, passed today. So, still stalled are important pieces of legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15, cut taxes for working families, provide additional funding for the Whole-Home Repairs Program, reform the Corporate Net Income Tax, provide a shield for abortion providers and those from other states coming to Pennsylvania seeking an abortion, open a window for survivors of sexual abuse to sue their abusers, enact two gun safety laws, protect public workers from dangerous work conditions, allow workers who are not working due to labor-management disputes to receive unemployment insurance, create a cost of living increase for retired teachers and public servants, and extend Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination law to LGBTQ+ people.

Pennsylvanians Together Releases Holiday Wish List!

By Blog Post, Press Statement

As we enter the holiday season, our thoughts are turned to all the ways the government of our state could be better serving the people of Pennsylvania, especially those who are struggling in one way or another.

The Democrats in the General Assembly, at times with the support of some Republicans, have embraced (and passed in the House) 13 important pieces of legislation that would provide greater opportunity and a helping hand to working people in every corner of the state, as well as protect all Pennsylvanians from various kinds of abuses.

Despite this, the Republican-controlled Senate has blocked these critical legislative initiatives.

So, we’ve put the following bills on our holiday wish list!

$15 Minimum Wage: (HB 1500, sponsored by Reps. Dawkins and Kim. Senate champion: Senator Tartaglione)

Working Families Tax Cut Working Families Tax Cut includes a PA Earned Income Tax Credit and expanded Tax Forgiveness program to reduce taxes on low-income Pennsylvanians (HB 1272, sponsored by Rep. Sappey);

New K-12 School Funding and Cyber Charter Reform: Level Up funding to underfunded schools (HB 611 and HB 301, sponsored by Reps. Schlossberg and Harris. Senate champions: Senators Hughes and Miller); Cyber Charter Reform (HB 1422, sponsored by Rep. Ciresi)

Additional Funding for Whole-Home Repairs Program: Provides help for low- and moderate-income Pennsylvanians to repair their homes (HB 1300, sponsored by Rep. Harris. Senate champion: Senator Saval)

Corporate Tax Reform: Closes the Delaware and Cayman Islands loopholes, which allow large multi-national corporations to avoid paying taxes in PA (HB 1219, sponsored by Reps. Samuelson and Fiedler. Senate champions: Senators Tartaglione and Haywood)

Abortion Shield Law: Protects abortion providers and those coming from outside of the state to seek abortions in PA (HB 1786, sponsored by Rep. Daley. Senate champions: Senators Schwank and Cappelletti)

Justice for Survivors: Opens a window for survivors of sexual abuse to sue their abusers (HB 2, sponsored by Rep. Rozzi. Senate champion: Senator Muth)

Gun Safety: Background Checks (HB 714, sponsored by Rep. Warren) and a Red Flag Law (HB 2018, sponsored by Rep. O’Mara) to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them

Protections for Public Workers: Extension of Occupational Safety and Health Act to protect public sector workers from dangerous work conditions (HB 299, sponsored by Rep. Harkins. Senate champion: Senator Kane)

Protections for Striking Workers: Allows workers affected by a labor–management dispute to collect unemployment benefits after a one-week waiting period (HB 1481, sponsored by Rep. Steele. Senate champion: Senator Costa)

Retirement Security for Teachers and Public Servants: (HB 1416, sponsored by Reps. Malagari and Deasy. Senate champion: Senator Muth)

Fairness Act: Extends Pennsylvania’s anti-discrimination law to LGBTQ+ people (HB 300, sponsored by Reps. Kenyatta and Frankel. Senate champion: Senator Santarsiero)

 

PRESS STATEMENT: PA Will Lose $3.1 Billion to Corporate Tax Cuts by 2028

By Blog Post, Press Statement

November 30, 2023

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Kirstin Snow, Communications Director, Pennsylvania Policy Center, snow@pennpolicy.org; Ellie Blachman, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, (202) 325-8718, eblachman@cbpp.org

 

New report: Pennsylvania will lose $3.1 billion to corporate tax cuts by 2028

Pennsylvania is part of historic, nationwide tax-cutting wave that jeopardizes investments in communities and our ability to meet the challenges of the future.

 

Harrisburg, PA — In recent years, policymakers in Harrisburg joined their counterparts in more than half the states across the country on a historic revenue-reduction spree that shifted public funds away from public investments and toward tax cuts that primarily benefit wealthy households and corporations.

Those corporate income tax cuts have already cost Pennsylvania $127 million in revenues and will cost an additional estimated $3 billion by 2028, according to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Those tax cuts—including the corporate tax rate reduction passed in Pennsylvania in 2022—will grow more expensive over time, with more revenue lost each year that could have been used to fully and fairly fund education and address the housing crisis.

“Pennsylvania is struggling to address a court-mandated requirement that we adequately and equitably fund K-12 education, but policymakers have cut the corporate tax revenue we need to tackle those problems head-on. And now Republicans want to accelerate those cuts,” said Marc Stier, executive director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center. Stier added, “By contrast, Democrats in the House have passed a strong plan to close the loopholes that allow wealthy multi-national corporations to escape paying any taxes. They show that we have choices when it comes to our tax code. We don’t have to tilt the system toward the wealthy. We can ensure that everyone pays their fair share and that we have the tools we need for our people and communities to succeed.”

Twenty-six states have enacted cuts to personal or corporate income taxes, or both, over the past three years. And 13 of those states have cut taxes multiple times during that period.

The cuts will shrink revenues by roughly $29 billion annually by 2028, according to CBPP. Cumulatively, they will have cost states roughly $124 billion by that time. The costs will continue to grow if policymakers do not reverse course.

“The recent surge of state personal and corporate income tax cuts is historically large in size and scope,” said Wesley Tharpe, senior advisor for state tax policy at CBPP and author of the new report. “State revenues aren’t just a number on a spreadsheet, they are critical resources that support families, communities, and our economy. Tax cuts on this scale will seriously hamper states’ ability to adequately fund current services or meet future challenges.”

The report notes that while 26 states have cut tax rates in the past three years, others have chosen a different path.

For example, Washington state established a new tax on capital gains received by the wealthiest 0.2 percent of taxpayers, which is expected to raise at least $500 million in new annual revenue for childcare, school improvements, and construction. Massachusetts approved a millionaire’s tax that will raise $2 billion annually for public education and transportation.

“As we look ahead to the new year, policymakers should prioritize meeting the demands of both the present and the future, not tax cuts for those at the top,” Stier said.

 

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.

 

The Contribution Of Education To Economic Growth And Democracy

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.

[pdf-embedder url=”https://pennpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Education-Funding-and-Educational-Achievement-1.pdf” title=”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.