Study: Schools fare poorly in quality, better in safety
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.”