A big thank you to Paul Vallas!

I just want to send a big shout-out to my main man, Paul Vallas, for high-tailing it out of Philly with such cohesion left as his legacy:

Responding to complaints from more than 40 speakers including Mayor Street and Democratic mayoral nominee Michael Nutter, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission last evening put off voting on a budget that would make vast cuts in personnel, contracts and other areas, but signaled it will adopt the plan tomorrow morning.

The commission delayed the vote to allow more time to consider the $2.18 billion proposed spending plan and to design a process that will allow for more public comment on the nearly $100 million in proposed cuts over the next several months.

The decision to delay came at the end of a more than six-hour meeting where dozens of parent leaders and students from schools across the city - many waving signs that read, "No Confidence" - paraded to the microphone to blast the commission for not allowing more input on the budget, among other recent decisions.

I mean, the genius budget manager Vallas, who magically found a holf of tens of millions of dollars in the budget, has united Michael Nutter and John Street together, to beg and plead with the SRC not to adopt a budget that slashes all kind of school programs. The SRC has decided to delay the implementation of the budget for a day or two in response. I guess that is what qualifies for a victory these days.

The article notes that despite the fact that Edison, the private company the SRC brought in, is a failure, they still will be running some schools next year. Why? I will leave that up to you to decide. But, I will just say that when education is privatized, there are some real problems that arise.

The State takeover of schools was supposed to provide the City with adequate funds. Partial privatization seemed like a price we would simply have to pay to get there. But, now we don't have enough money, and a State commission is locking us in to paying a failing private company. If the State is not going to provide adequate funds, then it is time for the charade that is the SRC to end.

Data on performance of rural districts?

Does anyone have any data on the performance of rural school districts in PA? Is it just me or these Senate republicans spiting their own constituents with their refusal to seriously fund education across the commonwealth? Is Berks county a preserve of fine education? Somehow, I doubt it but I'd love to see data that suggested as much.

It's all part of a Republican plot...

... to de-fund public education.

Speaking quite seriously, I believe that the national GOP has an objective to de-fund public education, except for the very wealthiest people (which is achieved by linking public school funding to local property taxes, as I have said elsewhere), simply because stupid people are easier to manipulate. And, as Steven Colbert so helpfully pointed out, reality has a distinct liberal bias.

Like I said, it's no joke,

Republicans and Schools

Not to defend the Republicans, but they do run the Philadelphia School District, and have since Governor Ridge set up the take-over. Isn't it true that the SDP has received record funding since the Republicans took over the District? Isn't it true that today, despite financial problems generated by liabilites in the multi-billion dollar capital program, that the SDP receives more funding than ever?

I think it's hard to argue -- at least in Philadelphia -- that the Republicans haven't been at least as committed to funding the city's public school (so long as they had some control, and didn't think the money was being wated with mismanagement).

That's a big stretch

While it's true that Philly schools have received a half billion dollars in funds in the past decade, typifying state funding as "record funding" is somewhat of an overstatement. The share the state gives toward its public schools has declined to about 36%; the national average is 50%. PA ranks near the bottom quartile in nunmerous categories on spending: support per student (36/50 states); equity across districts (37/50), and access to preschool (30/38 states that fund preschool). The highest spending district in the Commonwealth can outstrip the lowest spending by almost three times. You can find most of these facts on the Good Schools PA website.

For Philadelphia, that funding disparity is devastating, working out to millions of dollars even per school. We're accustomed to seeing school funding inequity be five miles away (the difference between Philly and the burbs), but last week's Inquirer showed how inequity can sometimes be only a newspaper section away. In the same issue that the Inky put up the second of two stories showing how the drastic decline in services to special needs students sometimes led to violence; the Lower Merion school system announced the $103 million building of its high school.

School funding folly

If you wanted to design a system so as to all but guarantee that the rich will stay rich + the poor will stay poor, what you'll do is design a systsem by which local public school funding is largely dependent upon local property taxes; in other words, you'll design exactly what we have today in the US.

As I said, the GOP is quite fond of this system, as it allows for easier manipulation of ill-educated minds (look at _What's the Matter with Kansas_ for related thoughts). Note also that the GOP has had a long history of opposing public education- eliminating the Department of Education was a major GOP goal for years before president bush, + even his so-called 'No Child Left Behind' act hasn't done much more than provide an opportunity for more testing materials to be sold.

If you want to fix schools commonwealth-wide, you need to rethink funding. Keep the linkage between property taxes + school funding, but even out the spending by collecting all property taxes into a single pool, + then redistributing the cash, while normalizing for regional differences in cost of living, special-needs students, etc.

This is not an impossible proposition; it only takes political guts + common sense. So, let's make it happen.


Alternate Solution

As I posted over in Councilman Goode's thread -- why doesn't Philadelphia just pay more in property taxes?

Philadelphia is not Detroit or East Saint Louis, or even Philadelphia of 1991. We are not a property-poor municipality, except artificially due to assessing property values at between 1-30% of market value.

I might add that the "common sense" solution of pooling property taxes only really appeals to common sense if every city assesses property and taxes it at the same rate. If someone in Montgomery County is paying twice as much in school taxes and has voted for additional millages to support their local schools, they deserve to have great schools -- they've paid for them, and not just by being rich. Philadelphians with comparable property values pay lower property taxes, then (if they're homeowners with children) often pay for the schools again through private tuition. And you should believe that any attempt to collect and split taxes by population will include a proposal that the money goes with the child, through vouchers or rebates or some other mechanism.

If we raise property taxes to fund the schools, and the schools improve, the property values might, just might, go up too. It is a virtuous circle, in the other direction. And property tax -- assuming that the city could actually collect it professionally -- is ultimately a much more stable source of revenue for schools than wages or sales or business profits or the state or the feds or the casinos or the airport. It, too, isn't an impossible proposition, at all.

Assessments and School Taxes

To correct a few statements about real estate taxes.

1. With two rare exceptions under new elements of PA law, people in Montgomery County do not vote to increase their millages (tax rates), the setting of millage rates for school taxes is done by the school districts. The two exceptions to this are when a school district exceeds PA Act 1 levels of budgeted expenses in non exception categories, in which case a referendum goes before the voters for that differential amount, and when under PA Act 34 Taj Mahal school building requirements, the amount needed for new construction exceeds the budgeted limit, in which case a referendum goes before the voters to allow for borrowing for that differential amount, thereby indirectly leading to a millage or tax rate increase to pay off that new debt.

2. The PA State Tax Equalization Board annually determines the aggregate market value of taxable real property in each political subdivision and school district throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the common level ratio of assessed to market value for each county.

3. The Philadelphia School District and City of Philadelphia's tax rates are already separated out. The City's rate is 3.474% and the School District's rate is 4.790% These rates could be changed each year by the City and/or the School District. While it is not generally a positive action, suburban school district tax rates/millages tend to go up more than the rate of inflation or the CPI for the region each year. By having Philadelphia's rates remain stagnent (since 1990; there was a reallocation, but not an increase in the total of 8.264% in 2003) the City and School District are not reflecting or capturing any new revenue for increased expenses each year, and are effectively providing the property owners in Philadelphia with a tax break, especially in relation to the suburban jurisdcitions, where as I stated earlier school taxes tend to go up each year more than the rate of inflation with suburban municipal and county government tax rates tending to increase on a yearly basis, but at generally lower rates than suburbn school districts.

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