Rep. Davidson to Announce for Lt. Gov.

A source tells me that State Rep. Margo Davidson is about to announce her candidacy for Lt. Governor.  She has been telling folks in Delaware County she has decided to run.  The field for Lt. Governor has been filling as quickly as that for Governor as Tom Corbett continues putting his foot in his mouth every time he opens it.

Rep. Davidson would join Mark Critz in the conservative Democratic wing of this primary.  Brad Koplinski, a certified progressive, has been leading this contest for some time and has amassed an impressive list of endorsements.  Margo Davidson’s record in Harrisburg is extremely troubling and includes a vote to close abortion clinics, prevent women from purchasing abortion insurance coverage with their own funds in the new ACA exchanges and support of school vouchers.  She spoke for vouchers on the House floor, an effort which drains our public schools of desperately needed revenue.

Thus far vouchers and charter schools have siphoned $1.5 billion from Pennsylvania’s public schools.  Several abortion clinics were forced to close after the infamous ambulatory surgical center standards passed with Davidson’s help.   Others were forced to spend millions making unnecessary renovations which increased the cost of abortions.

Just because a legislator is Black and/or female does not mean they are progressive.  Margo Davidson is proof.

Educational Tax Credits Are Often a Bait-and-Switch

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

A story in Monday’s New York Times explores the use of state tax credit programs to pay for “scholarships” for students who attend private schools. The story suggests that many of the students who receive such scholarships already attend private school and are not low-income.

To the extent that this is true, the political marketing of these programs as alternatives (for a select few students) to public schools in distressed communities is a “bait and switch.” Educational tax credits actually siphon taxpayer dollars to subsidize private schools, reducing state revenues available for public schools.

Is this how the scholarships to attend private schools work under Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program?

Probably: there is no prohibition on EITC scholarships going to students already attending private schools; middle-class families are eligible to receive scholarships (the income limit for a family of four is $84,000); and there is no evidence that even this income limit is enforced. In fact, Pennsylvania’s Act 46 of 2005 prohibits the state from requesting from scholarship organizations any information other than the number and amount of scholarships that they give out. I guess we’re just supposed to trust the scholarship organizations to self-enforce the income limit.

The lack of definitive evidence on who receives scholarships under Pennsylvania’s EITC program is consistent with the overall lack of accountability in the program, which has now cost Pennsylvania taxpayers more than a third of a billion dollars. EITC scholarships lack both financial accountability (how money is actually used) and educational accountability (who gets the scholarships and how scholarship students perform in school compared to similar public school students) – as we documented in a report last year. 

The New York Times story documents that Pennsylvania’s program works very well for some businesses, lobbyists, and lawmakers. The lobbyists set up scholarship organizations, solicit business clients whose donations actually make them money (because the state tax credit alone is worth up to 90% of donations and the federal tax write-off takes the savings well over 100%), and the lobbyists and key lawmakers then influence which schools (and students?) get the scholarships. Then there’s a photo op at the private school that local media write up as a demonstration of the business’s generosity and the legislator’s good work.

Everybody wins. Except perhaps the children whose public schools face funding cuts that much bigger because of the revenues lost to the EITC program.

State Senate Defunds Troubled Schools

Our State Senate passed a school voucher bill early this evening which further defunds our public schools.  Following the Governor’s slashing of public education this siphoning of taxpayer money to parochial schools is the last part of their plan to screw every child in the state.  Clearly unconstitutional it didn’t stop Senators such as Tony Williams and Andy Dinniman from defecting tot he privatization side.

This will not help failing schools but simply make it worse for the 95% of those students left behind.  Meanwhile an amendment barring discrimination based on sexual orientation was defeated along with every other amendment offered by Democrats.  This means private and parochial schools getting public funds can openly discriminate, pick and choose their students and have little accountability for how they spend your tax dollars.

Schools starving for funds for basic needs will see more of their state dollars funneled away and be in even worse condition.  Dinniman compared the situation to the Titanic but it was a false comparison.  This ship can be saved with the correct reforms.  Schools fail because they don’t have equitable funding.  They fail because Harrisburg fails them and today they failed again.

Sen. Williams sounded indignant about accusations he has a personal agenda in all this.  He has five million reasons to sponsor this bill, one for each dollar he took for his Gubernatorial campaign from those pushing this legislation.  He wants to be Governor and is willing to do the bidding of those paying the freight.  We all know his agenda.  He shouldn’t insult us by pretending not to be just another corrupt Philadelphia pol.

Jobs Down, College Tuition Up, School District Taxes Up and Policy Makers Are Focused on What?

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Other recent Morning Must Reads from Third and State:

Monday: No Revenue for Public Transportation & Corporations Need Another Tax Loophole for their Jets

Tuesday: Mo Gas, Mo Problems

On Tuesday, the Keystone Research Center published a summary of the employment situation in Pennsylvania. With the release of September’s jobs data, which included a loss of just over 15,000 jobs, a picture is emerging of a job market in Pennsylvania that is shrinking. The continued loss of public-sector jobs and relatively slow growth in private-sector jobs is the main source of weakness in the labor market. The bottom line is that although Pennsylvania ranked in the top 10 of states in terms of job growth early in this recovery, the Commonwealth has moved to the bottom 10 in the last five months.

Much of the public-sector job loss is driven by the fact that tax revenue has yet to fully recover from the recession, the end of federal Recovery Act funding, and state lawmakers’ unwillingness to raise state revenues which has deepened state budget cuts.

In related news – stemming from state budget cuts in funding for higher education – The Pittsburgh Post Gazette this morning reviews the latest on tuition costs at colleges and universities in Pennsylvania.

The average cost of tuition and fees at a public four-year college in Pennsylvania grew by 7 percent, from $11,331 last fall to $12,079 this fall, the College Board said. That’s an average increase of $748.

Pennsylvania’s average cost of $12,079 for four-year public college tuition and fees puts it behind only New Hampshire at $13,507 and Vermont, $13,078.

In K-12 education, local school districts are looking to compensate for state budget cuts through increases in property taxes. 

Meanwhile, state policymakers, instead of focusing on ways to maintain employment in education and more generally, are moving to approve a school voucher program. 

News & Notes April 25, 2011

Nice weather is upon us at last!  I got a lot done around the house today and got the launch permit for one of my kayaks.  They are two year Fish & Boat Commission stickers so I alternate my two kayaks each year.  It seems that fewer and fewer places are handling them.  I have a few things to still do to get my trailer in shape then it’ll be back out on the water after a long, hard winter.

The firm which was preparing to defend DOMA for House Republicans announced today it will not do so.  Paul Clement, the attorney who took the case then resigned from the firm and will do the defense on his own.  The law firm was getting tons of bad press for defending discrimination and didn’t seem comfortable with the publicity.

Tea baggers seem especially upset over gas prices.  Entering the Gamesa plant  afew weeks ago to cover the President’s visit several of them were holding signs blaming Obama for the high prices.  Aren’t these the Ayn Rand aficionados who are all hell bent on free markets determining everything?  I suppose only until the free market hurts them?  Now they’re demanding governmental intervention.  Can you say hypocrisy?

A new WikiLeaks document dump is revealing what happened at Gitmo.  Interviews, dossiers of prisoners and other information is illustrating how sorry our efforts were under Bush.  One detaineee was a sheep herder, another was kept for years because he happened upon some Arabic documents.  It took us years to determine he didn’t even speak the language.  Future terror attacks resulting from Gitmo, Abu Ghraib and other atrocities will be blamed on other factors rather than our own pathetic policies.  The question will pour from lips everywhere?  “Why did they attack us?”

Chesapeake Energy finally got their exploding gas well under control in Bradford County.  One result is that gas companies have finally agreed to stop dumping toxic fracking fluid into our waterways and through sewage treatment plants unequipped to handle the substance.  All of our efforts are beginning to gain some success.  It is imperative everyone continue applying pressure.

Tom Corbett said he wants to make Pennsylvania the “Texas of natural gas” but even in Texas they tax gas extraction.  Texas even has its citizen’s opposition to fracking now.  Can we say “frack you Tom Corbett?”

The gas industry claims natural gas is a “clean” fuel but facts say otherwise.  Five millions of water are required to frack each well each time (each well can be fracked about a dozen times) and loads of methane gas are emitted.  Methane is especially bad for climate change.  Also factoring in the gasoline and diesel from all the rigs hauling water, sand and chemicals to each well and gas may be dirtier even than coal.

Natural gas is mostly methane, which is a much more potent greenhouse gas, especially in the short term, with 105 times more warming impact, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide (CO2), Howarth said, adding that even small leaks make a big difference. He estimated that as much as 8 percent of the methane in shale gas leaks into the air during the lifetime of a hydraulic shale gas well-up to twice what escapes from conventional gas production.

Sen. Jane Orie’s retrial has been scheduled for October.  Her lawyers are appealing to Superior Court with her argument that she cannot be tried again under double jeopardy.  That’s a bit ridiculous since it is apparent her team doctored evidence presented at trial.  You shouldn’t be able to cheat your way to an acquittal.

The next time someone tries selling you on Amway use this information on them.  Rich and Betsy DeVos are co-owners of the private company infamous for its pyramid schemes.  They sink millions into GOP campaigns, think tanks and religious right organizations.  Now they’re funding the efforts to privatize public schools.  SB1 is in a holding pattern in Harrisburg but it may still get a vote so boycott Amway.

The water problems plaguing Harrisburg last week have been blamed on beavers.  Now the Harrisburg Beavers are being blamed for every ill besetting that poor ‘burgh.  Someone has even begun a Twitter account in their name.  The fake Linda Thompson (the horribly incapable Mayor) account is blaming all of her incompetence on the furry creatures.

Rick Santorum says he will repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell if elected president.  This is the same guy who also wants to tell you what sex acts you can and cannot do in the privacy of your home.  Isn’t that the ultimate “big government?”

I went into my local AT&T store this afternoon to complain about my iPhone tracking me and the people didn’t know what I was referring to and had nothing to tell me about how to disable the feature.  AT&T, are you listening?  I can’t hear you now.

Racist Governor Haley Barbour announced he will not run for president.  The GOP fields of clowns remains the same.

Apparently there’s a wedding this Friday for a couple known as Will and Kate.  Seems to be a big deal since the supposed cable “news” people are all agog over the event.  I wonder if the future princess will wear a white gown?  I mean, they’ve been shacked up for a year so I’m assuming she’s no longer a virgin?

I  heard a GOP radio commercial today claiming the Republicans didn’t vote to end Medicare.  Did they read their bill?

Third and State This Week: Closing Loopholes, a Flawed School Vouchers Plan and More

This week, we blogged about closing tax loopholes on Tax Day, a deeply flawed school vouchers plan in the state Senate, Governor Corbett’s claims about property taxes in Texas, and much more.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

  • On education, Steve Herzenberg wrote that despite amendments made to the Senate school voucher bill, it remains a deeply flawed and expensive new program, with little to no accountability.
  • On state budget and taxes, Sharon Ward shared her Tax Day op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she suggests that instead of grumbling about taxes this year, we start the work of closing tax loopholes that disproportionately benefit the well-connected few. Meanwhile, Chris Lilienthal passed on Tax Day resources from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Demos’ Taxes Matter Project to provide a fresh perspective on how we think about taxes. And Michael Wood posted a video clip from a Monday press conference, hosted by Common Cause Pennsylvania, where he and good government advocates called on lawmakers to close tax loopholes before cutting schools, colleges and services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians.
  • Finally, on the Marcellus Shale, Michael Wood sets the record straight on what taxes Texas drillers do and don’t pay, in response to recent comments by Governor Corbett.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Despite Changes, Senate Voucher Plan Deeply Flawed

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

Next week, the Pennsylvania Senate may take up an amended plan to create the largest-in-the nation private school vouchers program.

While Senate Bill 1 was amended last week, the bill remains deeply flawed.

Despite capping part of the cost, the program will be expensive, with costs approaching half a billion dollars within three years.

The amended bill places a $250 million cap on the cost of vouchers going to low-income students outside the attendance boundaries of the 144 initially targeted (“lowest-achieving”) schools. Even with this cap, the total cost (including the cost of vouchers for students within the targeted areas) would range from $400 million to $500 million in Year 3 and beyond. The biggest uncertainty in this estimate is the number of low-income public-school students within the boundaries of the targeted schools who will choose to transition to private schools.

Most of the $250 million set aside for vouchers to students outside the 144 targeted schools would likely go to low-income students already enrolled in private schools.

The Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee estimates that between 52,500 and 65,000 low-income students already enrolled in private schools would be eligible for vouchers – which would cost $320 million to $420 million. These students and their parents will be particularly motivated to seek out vouchers, and their schools will be motivated to help them. Since the state currently pays nothing towards the education of these students, their vouchers would amount to an entirely new cost to the state. Providing these vouchers would not reduce the demands on the public school system or the cost of serving existing students.

While an amendment to the bill would require private schools to assess voucher student progress in grades, 3, 5, 8, and 11, this provision provides the appearance, but not the substance, of educational accountability.

Private schools would have the option of administering their own customized assessment or picking from a list of at least eight national achievement tests. Parents would be unable to make apples-to-apples comparisons of student progress to evaluate school quality. Researchers would also be unable to rigorously compare the progress of voucher students and comparable public school students. In sum, this provision amounts to “faux accountability.”

Overall, the changes to SB 1 do not address the flaws of the bill:

  • It remains an expensive new program that would have little impact in nearly the 60% of Pennsylvania counties that have very few private schools.
  • It diverts money from the most financially strapped public schools at a time they can ill afford it.
  • The bill still does not establish meaningful financial or educational accountability that goes beyond the lack of accountability in the state’s existing EITC voucher program. (On the lack of accountability in the EITC program, see Keystone Research Center’s recent report on this topic.)
  • Vouchers and competition are not the key to educational achievement. U.S. research shows that vouchers do not improve educational achievement (for details, see Appendix A of the KRC report). Additional international rankings of student achievement show that the highest-performing countries are distinguished not by reliance on vouchers but rather by (a) adequate and equitable funding for students in all geographical areas, (b) significant investment in early childhood education, and (c) well developed systems of mentoring and peer learning that help all students become more effective in the classroom.

One of the reasons that the achievement of Pennsylvania school students has improved substantially in the last decade is because the state has increased state support of the lowest-income districts as well as investment in evidence-based programs such as early childhood education. That is the recipe for continued progress going forward.

Don’t Know Much About History …

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

Last week, we released a report at the Keystone Research Center that has me humming an old Sam Cooke song. You probably know it. It goes:


Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took

So why am I humming this oldie but goodie?

Well, because in Pennsylvania, we don’t know much about the 38,000 students who received taxpayer-funded scholarships in 2009-10 to attend private and religious schools under the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC).<!–break–>

Don’t know much about the schools that educated them either.

Don’t know much about basic financial information on the organizations distributing the scholarships.

Don’t know much about student progress, school quality, test scores. You get the point.

Despite receiving roughly a third of a billion dollars in taxpayer funds over the past decade, the EITC program lacks fundamental accountability measures, as we found in our report. (Check out the report, a research update on school vouchers and student achievement, an audio podcast of a conference call with reporters, and maps showing where private schools and EITC Scholarship Organizations are located.)

Corporations can collect up to $300,000 per year in tax credits on charitable contributions to organizations that provide students with private school scholarships. The credits are worth 75% for a one-time donation and 90% for a multi-year commitment. (The program also funds tax credits for contributions to preschool and pre-kindergarten scholarships, but our report focuses on accountability in the K-12 scholarships only.)

The lack of accountability is troubling in itself given the amount of tax dollars at stake. But it also has major implications for a brewing policy debate in the Legislature over private school vouchers.

With zero accountability in place for EITC scholarships, the state is in no position to launch a new vouchers program with a price tag to taxpayers that is at least 10-times as big. Before going down that road, policymakers should focus on strengthening accountability in the EITC.

Public schools and their students, by contrast, face both comprehensive financial accountability and increasing levels of educational accountability. As a result, we know that the percent of students scoring “below basic” has been cut in half over eight years. In fact, Pennsylvania was the only state where public school students improved in all categories at all grade levels from 2002 to 2008, according to the independent, non-partisan Center on Education Policy.

So let’s apply the same standards to EITC students to ensure our taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and effectively – and that all our kids are getting a quality education.

That would be a lot better than humming about all the things in this program we don’t know much about.

Senate Education Committee Sends Voucher Bill to Floor

The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee sent SB1 to the floor for a vote today.  The school voucher bill would impoverish financially strapped school districts by siphoning funds to private and parochial schools.  If parents wish to send their kids to private schools they should do so with their own funds.  It is already unconscionable that taxpayers must transport children to private schools but now they’ll also have to pay up to $9,000/year for their tuition.

No amendments to the bill were passed and Sen. Tony Williams, who has accepted $5 million from voucher supporters, rammed the bill through.  The only votes against forcing students in religious schools from being forced into indoctrination classes were Daylin Leach and Jim Ferlo.  On a White House conference call this afternoon I was in the Q&A queue to ask whether the Administration would challenge the constitutionality of such a law in court.  I wasn’t able to ask my question but I will continue to attempt to do so.  Using public tax dollars to fund religious schools is already a violation of the state constitution and clearly is against the separation of church and state.  Shame on all Democratic Senators (Williams and Dinniman included) who supported such legislation.

Tony Williams was bought and paid for by advocates of privatizing our public schools.

News & Notes March 1, 2011

Republican promises to create jobs and expand (not “grow” please!) the economy have hit the reality of their ideology.  Having snookered voters last year by promising to both create jobs and reduce government spending (you cannot do both in a  recession) their real agenda is present:  slash programs and give everything to the rich.  Mark Zandi has calculated that the $61 billion in proposed budget cuts will cost another 700,000 jobs.  These cuts would decimate organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, cut the EPA and eliminate wide swaths of successful, effective policies while keeping failed ones like abstinence education and unconstitutional faith based efforts.

700,000 new lost jobs will cost all of us in more unemployment, foreclosed homes, a double dip recession as all that income is lost and not spent, depression and increases in public mental health demands and the countless other ways recession affects all of us.

Where are the jobs Mr. Boehner?  You promised us jobs, not job losses.  Gov. Scott Walker has awakened the nascent, somnambulant, apathetic Democratic voter.  Activism on the left is newly motivated and next year’s elections could result in all those new GOP Congressmen facing unemployment.  So be it.  They’ve over reached, going to extremes of extremes and now they will shut down vital government services Saturday.

Christian Dior has fired designer John Galliano for anti-semitic remarks last weekend.  Hailing Adolf Hitler to some Jews at a Paris restaurant he told them they’d have been gassed and dead if he’d had his way.  Stars at the Academy Awards all boycotted Dior gowns in protest.

Charlie Sheen is all over the news these days denying he’s addicted to drugs.  I don’t watch much network TV so I’m not a fan of his show “Two and A Half Men.”  Now we know to whom the “Half” referred.  He told Piers Morgan last night he isn’t an addict but needs another word for his condition.  How about “junkie?”

Richard Mellon Scaife wrote an OpEd yesterday supporting Planned Parenthood.  Many people accept that what we do actually reduces the number of abortions.  Education, contraception, family planning, health screenings and cancer testing helps society.  Scaife adheres to the conservative belief that government should remain out of private lives.

Anonymous took down Club For Growth’s website today.  Pat Toomey, its former President, does his maiden speech in the Senate.

The GOP proposal to gut the EPA enforcement of clean air rules would be a huge boon to Koch Industries, one of the biggest polluters in the world.  The Koch brothers coal, oil, and other energy conglomerate has bought and paid for the Tea Party and other conservatives in the Republican caucus.  These budget cuts are their payoff.  Republicans need to shake off their Koch addictions.

Gov. Scott Walker locked his state capitol building in Madison.  Protesters are being removed by police and no additional people allowed in unless they have a “note” from their representative.  The Wisconsin Senate is limiting Democrats’ paychecks and access to copy machines in an infantile attempt to thwart their efforts to cripple unions.  The fact the Governor has locked the people out of the People’s House is truly offensive.  He is now at the point he has to lock himself out from his constituents.  He needs to get some of those ugly hats Ghaddafi wears and start spewing his delusional rhetoric from the balustrades.

This screed written by Jeff Parker and posted on facebook is a classic example of the hypocrisy of conservatives.

As they debate SB 1 in Harrisburg I’m reminded that private schools can and do have major advantages over public ones:  they can pick and choose their students.  How many special needs and disabled students attend private or parochial schools?  How many have to teach to tests and how many are at all accountable?  I have major issues with school voucher programs but the fact they don’t operate on the same playing field as public ones is dishonest debate when comparing the two systems.  No public funds should EVER go to religious education.  That’s simply brainwashing children at our expense.  This is unconstitutional.