Cigarette Tax Won’t Save Philly Schools

Member Group : Commonwealth Foundation

For Immediate Release
Commonwealth Foundation
Contact: Cindy Hamill – (856) 607-4208
Threatened Cuts Exaggerated, Quick-Fix Measures Not the Answer
Trends Show More Funding Won’t Fix Philadelphia Schools

August 1, 2014, PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—With a shocking 80 percent of students unable to read and do math at grade level, the School District of Philadelphia has a genuine crisis on its hands that must be addressed. But, over the past decade, trends in student achievement and school funding show that throwing more money at a failing system is not the answer.

Today, Commonwealth Foundation is releasing a new analysis of the School District of Philadelphia’s spending and achievement over the last ten years with several key findings.

"Despite a more than $1 billion increase in revenue since the 2002-2003 school year, Philadelphia’s public schools have not shown a tangible increase in student achievement," commented Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation. "The decade-long cycle of funding increases simply hasn’t improved the plight of the real victims of the crises: children and parents looking for a hopeful future through quality education. To achieve this end, solutions beyond funding increases must be considered."

In the 2012-2013 school year, Philadelphia school district revenue was slightly less than $3 billion, or $14,361 spent per average daily membership (ADM). This represents a $1 billion increase from 2002-2003 levels when spending per ADM was $9,299—a 21 percent jump in 2012 inflation-adjusted dollars.

At the same time funding increased, student enrollment dropped by 25 percent while teaching staff declined by just over 6 percent. The result is a student-to-teacher ratio that has plummeted by 20 percent over the last decade to 15.6 students for every classroom teacher.

"The drop in student-to-teacher ratio runs counter to the scare tactics pushed by those demanding a new cigarette tax," Benefield said.

Cigarette tax supporters organized by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will protest at Governor Corbett’s Philadelphia office today at 5 p.m. in a "Fight Back for Funding Rally." Benefield continued, "Claims that without more revenue class sizes will skyrocket to 40 students are not supported by current teaching staff and student enrollment levels, even if significant layoffs occurred."

Key Facts:

• In 2013, more than 80 percent Philadelphia students failed to make proficiency in both reading and math.

• Since the 2002-2003 school year, district revenue increased by more than $1 billion, from $1.94 billion to $2.97 billion.

• Philadelphia charter schools outperformed Philadelphia district schools in the 2012-2013 Department of Education’s School Performance Profile. The average charter school earned a score of 66, while the average district school was at 57.5.
• The student to teacher ratio actually declined by 20 percent over the past decade. In 2012-2013, there were 15.6 students for every classroom teacher in the Philadelphia school district, compared to 19.5 in 2002-2003.

Benefield commented:

"Proven solutions that truly address the student-victims of Philadelphia’s failing schools—and aren’t designed to simply prop up a failing system for one more year—include expanding charter schools, which achieve better academic outcomes on average. Not only do Philadelphia’s charter schools outperform district schools academically, they’re also much safer learning environments.
"Last year, district schools had a 64 percent higher rate of violent incidents than charters. Expanding charter enrollment to accommodate the tens of thousands of families on waiting lists would make a huge positive impact on students in the city.

"Other policy solutions include enacting seniority reform to keep the best teachers teaching and negotiating concessions in union labor contracts."

For more information and graphs of funding and staffing trends see Commonwealth Foundation’s policy points "Philadelphia School Trends, 2002-03 to 2012-13."
Nathan Benefield is available for comment on real solutions to Philadelphia’s education crisis. Please contact Cindy Hamill at (856) 607-4208 to schedule an interview.

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For more information, please contact Cindy Hamill, director of strategic communications for the Commonwealth Foundation at (856) 607-4208 or [email protected].
The Commonwealth Foundation, founded in 1988, crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.

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