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BROUILLETTE: Is A $2,000 Tax Hike Ahead For Your Family? 

This election year, we’ll repeatedly hear from Democrats that “democracy is at stake,” and the only way to preserve it is to elect Democrats.

But one thing you won’t hear from Pennsylvania Democrats is the Left’s plan to foist a $6 billion tax hike—about $2,000 per family of four, according to a Commonwealth Foundation analysis—on Pennsylvanians. While the presidential race will hog the limelight, our state legislative elections will have a bigger impact on your family budget.

That’s because Democrat lawmakers are pushing for a $6 billion tax increase, purportedly for “education.” And if Democrats (who are also school union funded) take control of the Pennsylvania Senate and keep the Pennsylvania House, you can bet they’ll send this tax increase to Gov. Shapiro’s ready pen.

Democrats claim they need this $6 billion to adequately fund our bureaucratic education system.

Don’t buy it.

For more than a decade, the Left has tossed out number after even higher numbers of the supposed amount needed to fix our schools. Meanwhile, taxpayers have delivered far more than the amount demanded, but too much is never enough for the Public School Gimme Gang.

In 2014, the William Penn School District launched a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s system of funding education. In court, the plaintiffs pointed to a single 2007 self-serving study that concluded $4.6 billion more was needed.

In its ruling last year declaring our system of funding education unconstitutional, the Commonwealth Court was not convinced of the $4.6 billion figure and, in fact, highlighted that its opinion does not “require reform to be entirely financial…. The options for reform are virtually limitless.” In short, the court did not order additional education funding.

Not to be dissuaded, the Left came up with a new figure—$6.2 billion—which they presented last year to the Basic Education Funding Commission. Democrats on the commission heard their marching orders and issued a partisan report calling for billions in new spending.

Disturbingly, the report also called for cuts to public charter and cyber schools, which serve thousands of Pennsylvania public school students. This shows the Left’s priority isn’t to help kids but to line the pockets of the unions, bureaucrats, and special interest groups that benefit from the union-operated school system.

But here’s what the Left won’t tell you. Over the past decade, total revenue for the commonwealth’s school districts has increased by $11.9 billion, while state support for public schools in Pennsylvania has increased by $5.9 billion. Taxpayers have given schools far more than the original and even revised supposed ‘need.’

The 2007 study said per-student spending needed to rise by about $2,500 to $12,057. Since then, per-student spending in Pennsylvania has risen by more than $12,000 to over $21,000 per student—the 7th highest in the nation and more than $5,000 higher than the national average.

We often hear about spending disparities among schools, yet much of this stems from so-called “hold harmless” provisions, which mandate that schools never receive less funding even if their enrollment dramatically declines. Meanwhile, schools with growing enrollments lose out on funding, as it’s not tied to enrollment. Unfortunately, many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle resist eliminating hold harmless for fear of optics in their districts.

Unfortunately, yet predictably, historic levels of spending on public education in Pennsylvania have not yielded the desired results. Thousands of kids are still trapped in crummy union-run schools.

If you’re a medical patient going to bad hospitals, you can pay them higher and higher fees until you’re blue in the face. They’ll still be bad hospitals. The solution isn’t higher medical bills. It’s different medical providers.

Similarly, the education solution in Pennsylvania isn’t more money—it’s more options.

Yet, these same progressive union lobbyists who want billions of dollars in tax hikes balk at empowering parents to choose the educational options that will meet children’s needs—a reform that could be implemented with zero additional tax dollars. Such reform would be a reality now had union-backed House Democrats not convinced Gov. Shapiro to betray his word and veto Lifeline Scholarships in the 2023-24 state budget.

Now, as election season heats up, we’ll undoubtedly hear a lot from candidates for state office about how they want to “invest in education.” The fact is that Pennsylvania’s public school spending is already at a historic high. And Democrats’ rhetoric is simply code for: “We’re going to raise your taxes.”

In 2024, national races will, of course, be extremely important. But let’s not for one minute forget the impact of state races. And let’s ensure we elect lawmakers who will support real solutions for education—so you won’t be hit with a $6 billion tax hike that does nothing to help kids.


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How Taxpayer-Funded Lobbying Stalls Education Reform Favored by Taxpayers

Taxpayer-funded public school lobbyists who favor increased funding at taxpayer expense typically oppose legislation that would expand educational opportunities for the children of those same taxpayers, according to policy analysts and elected officials.

That’s a lose-lose arrangement for Pennsylvania parents who are dissatisfied with the performance of their public schools. But it’s also one they are largely unaware of, said Rep. Andrew Lewis, a Dauphin County Republican, in an interview. He finds that too many lawmakers are “cowed” by well-funded pressure groups.

“It’s sad to see how much influence these comparably small organizations have when you contrast them with the magnitude of all the parents across Pennsylvania who want to be able to send their kids to a school of their choice,” Lewis said. “But if you’re lawmaker just listening to this alphabet soup of groups like the School Boards Association, or say, the Association of School Business Officials, then you’re inside the bubble and you’re not listening to parents.”

Lewis is the lead the sponsor of House Bill 1, which would implement a wide range of public and private school options. The bill would remove current impediments to the formation of new charter schools while also increasing the amount of scholarship funds that would be available to cover private school tuition. But Pennsylvania taxpayers who support these proposals are funding public school lobbyists who do not, which would help to explain why the bill has not yet moved out of the House education committee.

Rep. Andrew Lewis

At least $24.1 million in tax dollars were spent on membership organizations that participated in lobbying efforts from 2017 to 2020, while 26 local governments and agencies spent $18 million in tax dollars to hire contract lobbyists since 2007, according to two new reports from the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank based in Harrisburg.

Here are some of the key findings:

The largest association representing school officials is the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PBSA), a $9 million outfit with 9 registered lobbyists, funded by $7.2 million in taxpayer-funded dues. The PBSA has made it a priority to cut funding for charter schools and increase funding for conventional public schools while opposing school choice measures.

But it’s not alone. Since 2007, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials has received $735,000 in tax dollars, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Administrators has received $490,000, the Pennsylvania Principals’ Association has received $150,000, and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small School has received $94,000.

“I never hear these groups talk about what’s best for parents or what’s best for kids even though these entities are funded by the taxpayers,” Lewis said. “They’ll often complain about charter school funding, and they’ll often describe this as their number one problem plaguing their districts. But what they fail to realize, or mention, is that any parent that sends their kid to a charter school has determined that this is a better option for them than what the school districts currently provides for their kid. So, these taxpayer-funded entities are advocating directly opposite for what’s in the best interests of those parents and their kids. They also ignore the fact the public school district gets to keep 25 percent of the funding and they don’t have to pay for any of the actual educational costs borne by the charter.”

Under HB 1, Lewis would open new avenues for charter schools, expand existing tax credit scholarship programs and create Education Opportunity Accounts where the state would deposit about $6,000 per student for parents to spend on education. The bill also provides protections and incentives for “learning pods,” which groups of parents formed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewis would create “affirmative protections” to ensure that parents and children who take part in learning pods “are not subject to undue surveillance, reporting, regulatory demands or harassment,” according to a legislative memo attached to the bill.

“This might be the most aggressive school choice bill in the country now,” Lewis said. “But getting this bill out of committee has been a challenge. One option we have considered is a discharge resolution, and how this works is you get a couple dozen members to sign on and force the bill out of committee. That’s step one, but then you still have to get leadership to run the bill. But with school choice being as important, timely, and crucial as it is, we should vote so the people can see where legislators stand.”

Lewis favors the creation of a statewide authorization board as part of HB. 1 to empower local communities with more options to create charter schools.

“Right now, we have a situation where the school district decides whether to authorize a new charter and what this means is you have the fox guarding the hen house. Often times, the people making these decisions are the ones running the failing schools and they know that if a new player comes in who is competitive it’s going to take away some of their student population.

“So, you’ve got this double situation where not only is a school failing, but these school officials are blocking any entity that would provide new opportunities for families. My bill creates an independent statewide charter authorizer that bypasses the local districts so charters can gain approval from an unbiased board,” Lewis said.

What then are the prospects for education reform?

Lewis sees an opportunity to expand both the Education Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Tax Credit programs as part of the budgetary negotiations that will take place over the next few months. He’s less certain about the possibility of charter school proposals and Education Opportunity Accounts gaining traction at least in the near term.

“There are several promising proposals,” he said. “But I don’t know if our leadership has the stomach or the willpower to fight for these reforms so they can come to fruition. The charter school component of my bill, for example, is a heavy lift because special interests see it as a threat to their monopoly.”

Dave Hardy, a senior fellow with The Commonwealth Foundation, who is also the co-founder and retired CEO of the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia charter school, expects to see parents operating at disadvantage so long as their tax dollars are used to support lobbying against legislation that they favor.

“If the people who operate charter schools want to do any lobbying, they have to do it out of their own pockets,” Hardy said. “But there’s a whole apparatus that has been set up and funded by the taxpayer to lobby against charters. It’s really an insane situation. Parents who want to talk to lawmakers and pay for their own traveling are on a limited budget. They are at a huge disadvantage.”

The Commonwealth Foundation performed its studies by submitting Right-to-Know requests to local government agencies including school districts. But only about 40percent of those agencies responded and out of the 571 school entities that received open records requests, just 105 responded – a response rate of just 18 percent. For this reason, the reports understate the amount of taxpayer money that is devoted to opposing school choice. Even so, the reports produce several major takeaways that help to explain why reform measures like HB.1 have stalled.

The bottom line is that public school lobbyists have a huge financial advantage over taxpayers who do not support their policy agenda. The Pittsburgh School District, for example, paid $552,075 to Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney from 2013 to 2020, according to Right-to-Know records. A search of the Pennsylvania State Department’s lobbying database shows the district spent an added $293,467 for lobbying from April 2008 to December 2012.

A complete list of the expenditures where taxpayer money has been used to pay lobbyists is available here. Some of the school districts that ring the bell include the Hempfield Area School District, the Philadelphia School District, the Pittsburgh School District, the Bloomsburg Area School District, the West York Area School District, the Harrisburg School District, and the Sharon City School District.

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