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How Much Does School Funding Matter? Depends Who You Ask

A sharply divided political debate has emerged in Pennsylvania about whether increased funding leads to better outcomes in student performance.

It has ensnared the nation’s top academicians who, like Democrats and Republicans, tend to fall into the divergent camps: Money matters or no it does not.

But one school advocate told DVJournal those schools of thought ignore the middle ground: Yes, decades of research shows increased school funding leads to better outcomes for students. But  money must also be smartly invested by districts, especially in early childhood education with compelling evidence showing “very clear payoffs.”

“I don’t think it’s quite as simple as all Republicans are against funding our schools and all Democrats want to fund our schools,” said Laura Boyce, executive director of Teach Plus Pennsylvania.

She pointed to Sen. Pat Browne as an example. The Republican, tapped as Gov. Josh Shapiro’s secretary of revenue, chaired the commission that created a new funding formula for Pennsylvania schools.

“School funding is an extremely complex topic. Any type of … assessment of either money is going to solve all of our problems or there’s no amount of money you can throw at the problem therefore we shouldn’t do anything to reform our school funding system or to try to ensure both of those are way too simplistic,” Boyce said.

But that was exactly the argument the state’s Independent Fiscal Office made when it in wrote in a report that “the data suggests there is little or no correlation” between the funding and student outcomes.

Democrats immediately pounced on the suggestion, saying it mirrored arguments made by Republicans in a trial over the way the state pays for public schools, Spotlight Pa reported.

The case, filed by a handful of districts and advocates in 2014, centers on the state’s “heavy reliance on local property taxes” to fund public school districts, which creates imbalances between poorer and wealthier districts, Spotlight PA reported.

Organizations that support the lawsuit said the state has underfunded schools by $4.6 billion with a growing funding gap of about $4,800 between poor and wealthy districts.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association said 38 percent of public education costs are covered by the state with local districts making up the difference through property taxes. That ranks Pennsylvania among the bottom five in the nation for its share of K-12 education funding.

Democrats feel the gaps discriminate against certain students and violate the state constitution while Republicans have suggested throwing more funding at struggling schools won’t improve outcomes.

Arguments in the case wrapped up months ago and a decision, now in the hands of Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer, is likely to be appealed either way, WHYY reported.

Lawmakers split across the aisle have pointed to research on both sides of the debate.

A report from Rutgers professor Bruce Baker concluded that “aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes.”

On the other hand, the Commonwealth Foundation found 78 percent of 8th graders were not proficient in math and 47 percent weren’t proficient in language arts despite increased funding.

It also cited a 2014 study from libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, that also claimed there was “essentially no link” between the two.

Baker says both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of playing both sides of the fence in the debate. He pointed to comments that former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made during his 2011 State of the State address when he declared the Empire State “spend[s] too much, but we get too little in return. We spend more money on education than any state in the nation, and we are number 34 in terms of results.”

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek is often trotted out as a foil to Baker, who called his counterpart “education’s merchant of doubt.” Hanushek has long argued that increased spending doesn’t necessarily translate into better outcomes for children.

Critics suggest his observations rely on “decades-old studies with crude methodologies,” according to Vox.

Yet both experts concede the other side isn’t totally wrong.

Hanushek said during Pennsylvania’s public education funding trial that “money can matter. It probably, at times, matters. The problem is that we don’t know when it’s going to matter,” Vox reported.

And Baker believes “other factors may moderate the influence of funding on student outcomes,” while adding that money must be “spent wisely to yield benefits.”

Boyce, the teaching advocate, believes now is not the time to skimp on public education funding despite a downward trend in student enrollment.

“We see overwhelming evidence of learning loss post-pandemic,” she said. “I think it’s a little bit too simplistic to say. ‘Oh, well, schools don’t need the money anymore.’ You have to take a more complex view beyond just, ‘What are the enrollment numbers?’”

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WISSMAN: PA Prospers With a Strong Energy Economy

Pennsylvanians are feeling the pinch of record-high inflation and energy costs. The global mismatch between energy demand and available supply has put upward pressure on prices, which isn’t helped by the current policy and regulatory environment.

What’s needed now to help boost supply, as well as bolster our economy and U.S. energy leadership, are policies that encourage investment in energy exploration and infrastructure build-out. And in Pennsylvania, with its abundance of shale gas, policymakers should embrace energy as part of the state’s economic competitiveness and create a climate that attracts additional investment.

Natural gas development in Pennsylvania has proven to be an economic boon for the state, bringing in billions of revenues annually, generating over $2.2 billion in impact fee funding during the last decade, supporting tens of thousands of jobs and signaling to other companies, both large and small, that they should invest here.

Natural gas and oil activity has not only contributed directly to Pennsylvania’s economy but has also boosted manufacturing, logistics, banking, construction, and many other sectors in the state – more than $78.3 billion in total economic impact.

Research has shown that every direct job in the natural gas and oil industry – over 102,000 – generated an additional 3.7 jobs in Pennsylvania. Good jobs mean family-sustaining wages that are spent on homes and at restaurants, retail stores, and small businesses.

Pennsylvania has prospered in many ways from a strong energy sector. But more can – and should – be done to ensure the commonwealth is one of the best places to do business and continues to grow its energy economy.

This year, state lawmakers advanced measures to bring more investments and jobs to Pennsylvania, while continuing to hold the line on policy proposals that could harm our state’s national standing as a top energy producer.

Pennsylvania is clearly making progress. Yet, to embrace all that Pennsylvania has to offer, we need predictable regulations and efficient permitting, as well as a business climate that keeps the Keystone State competitive.

In June, the American Petroleum Institute (API) unveiled a 10-point policy plan that would strengthen U.S. energy leadership and unleash investment in America. These policy solutions, like removing obstructions to permits for natural gas projects, accelerating liquid natural gas (LNG) exports, approving applications for new export terminals, and designating critical energy infrastructure projects, would create new energy access while avoiding harmful government policies and duplicative regulations.

These solutions offer energy producers ways to supply more American-made natural gas and oil to consumers here at home and our allies abroad–not to mention generate good jobs, increased tax revenues, and economic development.

Rather than rely on foreign regimes for natural gas and oil, we should encourage domestic production in Pennsylvania. And that starts with policymakers at every level of government supporting a statutory and regulatory framework that fosters economic development, allows Pennsylvania businesses to grow and multiply, and supports domestic energy production and infrastructure expansion.

Pennsylvania has led the way in energy production and environmental progress and has the potential to do much more.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while natural gas production growth in the Appalachia region over the past decade has been helped by improved productivity from wells drilled, regional transportation capacity is nearly full.

Without additional pipeline capacity, access to affordable, reliable energy is limited, and so is the state’s ability to grow its energy economy. Advancing natural gas development and pipeline infrastructure could help meet the dual challenge of powering Pennsylvania homes and businesses while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Under API’s solutions-focused policy plan, projects that support the production, processing, and delivery of energy should undergo a streamlined review and permitting process not to exceed one year.

At this critical time, with high inflation and energy prices hitting families hard, simply put, we need more energy. Ramping up energy production and completing pipeline projects doesn’t happen overnight. That is why we need smartly crafted policies that encourage investment and growth in the energy sector enacted today.

Pennsylvania-made natural gas is key to keeping our state competitive and boosting its bottom line. Consumers benefit, too, with increased access to affordable, reliable energy, and billions in new revenues that are directed to the state and communities in every corner of the commonwealth.

With the right approach, Pennsylvania can continue to build on these gains, safeguard our energy future and stimulate long-term economic growth.

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