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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.

What Would an Equitable Voucher System Look Like?

By 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. 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.

Saving Public Education in Pennsylvania, Where It Began

By Blog Post, Op-Ed

Originally published on

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.



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.


Penn Policy Speaks in Support of House Budget on K-12 Education

By Press Statement

Remarks by Marc Stier, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Policy Center, at a PA School Work press conference in support of the House passed budget for 2023-2024

In March, Governor Shapiro put forward a proposed budget that many of us said had the right priorities but did not offer enough funding for critical needs, including K-12 education. Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a budget—with the support of Governor Shapiro—that added funding in many of those critical areas.

The House budget adds the basic education fund to the governor’s proposal. It includes new funding for the Level Up program, which provides additional money for the 108 least-well-funded school districts and adds money for special education and for repairing toxic schools. The House budget, which Governor Shapiro embraced, is a good down payment on what the state ultimately must do to meet the constitutional and moral requirements to fully and fairly fund our schools.

The additional funding in the House budget for education and other needs is made possible by the new revenue budget estimates provided by the Independent Fiscal Office. The IFO projects that the state will have almost a billion dollars more for the current and next fiscal years than the governor projected in March. At end of this fiscal year, on June 30th, the state will have a $13 billion accumulated surplus including the Rainy Day Fund and the General Fund surplus. If the House budget is adopted, the state will still have a $10.5 billion surplus on June 30th next year.

Contrary to some critics’ opinions of the House-passed budget, it does not reduce Rainy Day Fund but adds a bit more than $500 million to it. The House budget, like the Governor’s budget and any other budget that will be enacted this year, does draw down the accumulated General Fund surplus. That is exactly what it should do. The General Fund surplus is a product of tight budgets during the pandemic, federal pandemic aid, and a faster-than-expected recovery from the recession created by the pandemic. It was created by our tax dollars, and it should be used to support the needs of the state as identified by the people of Pennsylvania.

And that is what the House budget proposal does, as shown by the result of a poll carried out by Data for Progress last week.

The poll shows that 64% of Pennsylvania voters believe we are facing a severe teacher shortage in the state, and 69% of them believe that there are significant differences in education quality provided by public schools across Pennsylvania because some schools do not receive enough funding.

That does not mean that Pennsylvanians oppose our public school system. By a 26-point margin, Pennsylvania voters don’t want to replace our existing public school system with private schools funded by vouchers. Rather, they understand that our schools are not, but should be, fairly and adequately funded: 67% believe state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are sufficiently funded, and 66% think that state government should be doing more to ensure that public schools are equally funded.

The Pennsylvania House budget passed last week does exactly what voters want— it takes a critical step forward in fully and fairly funding our schools.

The Real Cost of Opening a Window for Sexual Abuse Lawsuits in Pennsylvania

By Blog Post, Policy Briefs

By Marc Stier

I was asked to testify about the claims made in a paper by the Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy that opening a two-year window for childhood victims of sexual abuse to bring lawsuits against their abusers might cost public schools in Pennsylvania between $10 billion and $32 billion. On its face, the claim sounds utterly absurd. (Not to mention irrelevant; if that is the cost of doing justice for those who have suffered from sexual abuse, then that is what we should be prepared to pay.) But as I delved into the details of the paper, I discovered that it was based on what, frankly, was a horror show of faulty research methods and statistical analyses. I was tempted to say—but in the setting of an official hearing in the Capitol, did not say—that this paper would have received no better than a D grade in the research methods or statistics courses I had taught at the University of North Carolina Charlotte or City College of New York. But that is, in fact, the truth.

Read the whole response here.  

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Why We Need a Property Tax Circuit Breaker in Pennsylvania

By Policy Statement

Statement of Marc Stier at Senator Jimmy Dillon / Representative Robert Freeman press conference on establishing a property tax circuit breaker in Pennsylvania on April 25, 2023

I’m very pleased to stand with Senator Jimmy Dillon and Representative Robert Freeman in support of establishing a property tax circuit breaker in Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center first proposed such a plan in 2015 and our new organization, the Pennsylvania Policy Center, continues to support it. Representative Freeman has long championed it, and we are glad to see Senator Dillion become a champion of it as well.

Pennsylvania has long had a serious problem: our tax system is unfair. State and local taxes in our commonwealth place a much greater burden on families with low incomes and moderate incomes than those with high incomes.

Just to give you an idea of how unfair our tax system is, consider this:

The 20% of families with the lowest incomes in the state, who have incomes below $23,000 per year and an average income of only $13,000, pay 13.8% of their income in state and local taxes.

The 20% of families in the middle of the income scale, with an average income of $61,000 per year, pay 11.1% of their income in state and local taxes.

But the richest 1% of families, with an income of more than $667,000 and an average income of $1.75 million, pay only 6% of their income in state and local tax.

This is an upside-down, tax system that is fundamentally unfair. But it is neither necessary nor common. Every state surrounding Pennsylvania has a fairer tax system.

There are many reasons for the unfairness of our tax system. One is that our uniformity clause prohibits graduated income tax rates. Another is that we rely too heavily on property taxes to fund our schools. Pennsylvania provides only 38% of the funding for our schools, while national average for all states is 48%.

Property taxes tend to burden low- and middle-income people more than those who are wealthy. In Pennsylvania, the 20% of families with the lowest incomes in the state pay 4.6% of their income in property taxes. The middle 20% of families pay 2.7% of their income in property taxes. And the top 1% of families pay only 1.6% of their income in property taxes. (All data from Institute on Tax and Economic Policy, Who Pays, 6th edition, 2018,

Property taxes burden people with low and middle incomes more than those with high incomes because the lower a family’s income, the higher the cost of housing relative to their income. Rich people do tend to have bigger houses and sometimes have more than one. But the income of the very rich tends to be so high that the cost of their homes is relatively low compared to their income.

On the other hand, because their incomes are so much lower, whether they own or rent—and property taxes are included in rents—low- and middle-income Pennsylvanians must pay a larger share of their income for housing than those who are wealthier. And that shows up in the higher share of their income that goes to property taxes.

This problem is especially problematic for seniors, who may live for many years with relatively fixed incomes that don’t rise with the cost of both housing and property taxes.

The basic unfairness of property taxes is exacerbated because people with lower and moderate incomes tend live in communities with less wealth. And, as result, those communities have to tax themselves more to pay for schools and local government services.

The extent of the property tax problem varies from one region to another. It is an especially serious problem inside the arc of counties from York to Schuylkill to Carbon to Monroe. But it is a problem that afflicts families in every county in the state.

One solution to the problem is a property tax circuit breaker.

With the most common version of a property tax circuit breaker, the state gives taxpayers a credit or rebate for taxes above a certain percentage of their income. This credit could go to all taxpayers, it could be limited to those below a certain income threshold, or it could be gradually reduced as the taxpayer’s income increases. By giving taxpayers a credit for taxes they pay, the program protects both homeowners and the communities that must rely on property taxes to pay for schools and local government services. And because the program provides a credit or rebate, limiting it to taxpayers with low and moderate incomes taxpayers and / or giving a larger credit to seniors would be constitutional under the uniformity clause.

This is not a new or uncommon idea. New York instituted such a program in 2015. Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia have a property tax circuit breaker.

Pennsylvania currently has a limited version of this program, the Property Tax / Rent Rebate program. But this limited program only benefits Pennsylvanians 65 or older, widows and widowers 50 or older, and people with disabilities 18 and older. And only those with incomes below $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters benefit from the program. Governor Shapiro has called for expanding the program. However, what Representative Freeman and Senator Dillon are calling for today is a bolder program that would benefit far more Pennsylvanians.

We have long believed that Pennsylvania’s unfair taxes are one of the two largest public policy problems in our state. The other is, of course, our immoral and now unconstitutional system of funding K-12 education.

At base, however, the two problems are really one. Our over-reliance on property taxes to fund K-12 education is, as we’ve pointed out, one of the sources of tax unfairness. And raising the funds necessary to reform the way we fund K-12 education will require new tax laws that ask the richest Pennsylvanians to pay their fair share.

So, we believe that the legislation that Representative Freeman and Senator Dillon propose today is critical—and not only to solve the problem of unfair taxes. We believe that what they propose today is likely to be part of any comprehensive solution to the K-12 school funding issue.