Study: Schools fare poorly in qual­ity, bet­ter in safety

The Review - - FRONT PAGE - By Dave Le­mery Watch­dog.org

As the topic of ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is shap­ing up to be one of the key is­sues in the Penn­syl­va­nia gover­nor’s race this year, a new re­port is show­ing that the state’s school sys­tem is be­low av­er­age com­pared to the other states.

Per­sonal fi­nance an­a­lysts at Wal­letHub re­leased a new re­port, “2018’s States with the Best & Worst School Sys­tems,” and Penn­syl­va­nia landed at 28th on the list. Most of the state’s neigh­bors per­formed bet­ter, with New Jersey in sec­ond place, Mary­land eighth, Delaware 19th, New York 22nd and Ohio 27th. West Vir­ginia was the only neigh­bor­ing state to fare worse, land­ing in 42nd place.

Wal­letHub col­lected scores across about two dozen dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories and sorted them into two main com­po­nents, a “qual­ity” rank and a “safety” rank. Penn­syl­va­nia fared bet­ter for safety, land­ing at 17th, but in the qual­ity por­tion the state placed 30th.

“Un­like other re­search that fo­cuses pri­mar­ily on aca­demic out­comes or school fi­nance, Wal­letHub’s anal­y­sis takes a more com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach,”

the re­port states. “It ac­counts for per­for­mance, fund­ing, safety, class size and in­struc­tor cre­den­tials. To de­ter­mine the top-per­form­ing school sys­tems in Amer­ica, Wal­letHub com­pared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 25 key met­rics.”

Some of the met­rics that dragged down Penn­syl­va­nia’s score in­cluded:

• A 34th place rank­ing in me­dian SAT score

• A 42nd place fin­ish in share of grad­u­ates who com­pleted the ACT or SAT exam

• A 49th place mark in share of li­censed or cer­ti­fied pub­lic K-12 teach­ers

More promis­ing re­sults showed up on the school safety side, where the state was fifth in “share of threat­ened/in­jured high school stu­dents,” ninth in “share of high school stu­dents with ac­cess to il­le­gal drugs” and first in “share of armed high school stu­dents.”

The topic of school fund­ing has become a flash­point in the gover­nor’s race in re­cent weeks af­ter it emerged that Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf was sup­port­ing a pro­posal to al­ter the state fund­ing for­mula for school dis­tricts statewide. Repub­li­can lead­ers, in­clud­ing the cam­paign of gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­nee Scott Wag­ner, have ar­gued that the for­mula change would re­sult in more than a bil­lion dol­lars mov­ing out of some school dis­tricts and into oth­ers.

“If ap­plied to all ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing across the Com­mon­wealth, (it) would have the ef­fect of mak­ing ($1.2 bil­lion) from mostly ru­ral and subur­ban school dis­tricts and re­dis­tribut­ing that ($1.2 bil­lion) to 30 per­cent of the school district in the Com­mon­wealth — prin­ci­pally Philadel­phia get­ting a $400 mil­lion bump from that,” Jeff Bar­tos, Wag­ner’s run­ning mate, said on KDKA News­ra­dio Pitts­burgh last Mon­day.

Bar­tos also slammed the Wolf cam­paign for taking credit for the restora­tion of $1 bil­lion in cut ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing over the course of his term when the gover­nor didn’t sign the first three bud­gets that were sent to him.

“If you’re the gover­nor, if you’re the ex­ec­u­tive, you ac­tu­ally have to sign the leg­is­la­tion to take credit for those ap­pro­pri­a­tions,” Bar­tos said. “And as ev­ery­body knows, the gover­nor did not sign the first three bud­gets of his term. He let them go into law with­out sign­ing them. And now he wants to claim or take credit for those, restor­ing of funds, when in fact Scott Wag­ner as a sen­a­tor voted for those funds being al­lo­cated to ed­u­ca­tion. And so in fact, in this race, over the last four years, Scott Wag­ner has had more of a hand in putting more money into ed­u­ca­tion than the gover­nor has.”

Wolf is just as ea­ger to claim the man­tle of the pro-ed­u­ca­tion can­di­date, tout­ing in a news re­lease on his cam­paign web­site his ac­com­plish­ments over the past four years.

“My ad­min­is­tra­tion is laser-fo­cused on im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion at all lev­els and in­vest­ing in our schools and our chil­dren is my top pri­or­ity,” Wolf said in the re­lease. “We have fully re­stored ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing cut dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion, en­sured stu­dents are ready for col­lege or to start their ca­reer, and pro­vided un­prece­dented sup­port for high-qual­ity Pre-K pro­grams so young chil­dren can start de­vel­op­ing strong read­ing skills needed for suc­cess in school and be­yond.”

Wal­letHub con­sulted a num­ber of ed­u­ca­tional ex­perts to look at and eval­u­ate the re­sults of its study. The site asked Theodore Zer­vas, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at North Park Univer­sity in Chicago, whether school fund­ing could ex­plain the vari­ances in school qual­ity from state to state.

“It all de­pends on how the money is being spent at schools,” Zer­vas said. “Onet­hou­sand dol­lars dif­fer­ence between two stu­dents may not have a tremen­dous im­pact. It’s all about how to max­i­mize re­sources and monies to help stu­dents. When we are talk­ing about ($2,000 or $3,000) we may see an im­pact on the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion. But again here we have to look if the money is being spent ef­fec­tively.”

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