Pennsylvania test results tied to school funding


Legislators trying to cut education funding should pay attention to a new report showing Pennsylvania leads the nation in consistent improvement in math and reading test scores.
The state-by-state analysis by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy didn’t explore why gains were made across the board in elementary, middle, and high school scores since the federal No Child Left Behind law took effect in 2002. But it makes sense that increased state funding for public education, plus targeted efforts to boost performance, are a large part of the equation.
“Something is going right in Pennsylvania,” said Center on Education Policy president Jack Jennings. He’s right, and that something is funding for early childhood education programs, such as pre-K and full-day kindergarten; smaller class sizes; tutoring; and high school initiatives.
Senate Republicans who want to cut education funding and make it up with federal stimulus dollars that expire in two years should pay heed to this data.
The new report says Pennsylvania was among only five states that had increases in both reading and math at all three levels — basic, proficient, and advanced.
Among the 50 Pennsylvania school districts with the largest increases in test scores were Oxford Area in Chester County, Bristol Township in Bucks, and Philadelphia, which saw its scores increase 25 percent in eight years.
Senate Republicans should also consider the “costing-out” study commissioned by lawmakers two years ago, which concluded that Pennsylvania schools are actually underfunded by $4.38 billion annually.
Gov. Rendell earlier this week reiterated his commitment to maintain public education funding, saying it was nonnegotiable. “This is not the time to cut education spending,” Rendell told the Inquirer Editorial Board.
The governor’s adamancy, coupled with the new test data showing Pennsylvania is getting good returns on its education investment, means the legislature should look elsewhere for savings in the overall state budget.
Rendell’s proposal would keep education funding at last year’s level and earmark the federal stimulus funds to give districts an additional $300 million.
Too many students are still missing federal benchmarks, and districts have a long road ahead to get all students proficient by 2014, as mandated by NCLB.
Pennsylvania cannot afford to go backward on public education. The legislature needs to continue to invest heavily in the state’s children. It’s more than a slogan to say they are our future.