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Pennsylvania

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educationThe Basic Education Funding Commission — a collection of state lawmakers and administration officials tasked with creating a “fair, equitable” funding formula for public schools — agree that Pennsylvania’s current mechanism leaves poor school districts disproportionately vulnerable to state-level cuts in education spending.
“It’s been so hard to follow, when it comes to running a school operation … to be able to determine what you have available to you to sustain that operation over time, the last 30 years have been very challenging in that respect,” said Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, co-chair of the commission, during Wednesday’s meeting. “We have to reflect on that.”

In fact, the challenges facing today’s commission began much earlier than the 1980s — lawmakers have been grappling with similar problems since The Great Depression, based upon the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools 2013 report on the history of education funding, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission archives and testimony from the state Department of Education.

Pennsylvania School Board Association statistics — gleaned the Rural and Small Schools Association’s report on the history of school funding — chronicled the fluctuations in state public education aid before the implementation of the Public School Code of 1949.

In 1930, according to PSBA records, 83 percent of education costs “were funded locally, almost exclusively by property taxes.” As the depression squeezed income levels and reduced property tax revenue, state public education subsidies swelled to 30 percent in 1940. A decade later, state aid to school districts would surpass 40 percent.

The Hare-Lee-Sollenberger Act of 1945 restructured state aid to public education following the Great Depression. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission archives report that to amp up funding levels, state lawmakers determined a figure for the “basic amount to educate a room full of students” — defined as 30 students in an elementary school or 22 students in a secondary school — at $1,800, with gradual increases each year.

At the time, the state Department of Public Instruction — now the Department of Education — guaranteed each district that met state education standards would receive at least an $1,800 subsidy each year, but the source of the money, state or local, depended upon the “real property wealth of the district.”

That meant, in effect, poor districts leaned heavily on state subsidies while local tax dollars, almost exclusively, financed wealthier districts.

And the situation hasn’t changed much for the better part 70 years. Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, said during the commission’s meeting Wednesday that the state’s across-the-board and line-item percentage cuts harmed poorer districts — some who lost $1,000 in funding per student — while wealthier districts were able to sustain funding levels, sometimes only losing $100 per student in state aid.

The inequity of state subsidies was a problem for lawmakers in the 1920s, too.
In 1927, Columbia University Professor Paul Mort — chair of a commission tasked with studying the distribution of state education subsidies on behalf of the administration and the General Assembly — recommended each district receive “the same amount of tax revenues per teacher unit.” Because Pennsylvania lacked uniform county assessment laws (and still does), the report called for the creation of an independent body to assess true market values in each district.

But lawmakers wouldn’t get around to creating the State Tax Equalization Board — now called the Tax Equalization Division — until 1947. This board determined a “per teacher unit,” which calculated the state’s subsidy level through 1957.

Both the Tax Equalization Board and the Hare-Lee-Sollenberger Act would be consolidated, with other existing public school laws, into the Public School Code of 1949 — the “main source for legislative authority” for state education public policy, even today.

In Act 391 of 1957, lawmakers created the first “add ons” — or supplements — to its funding formula, in order to incentivize the creation of “joint and union districts.” Financial supplements still exist and cover a range of district circumstances, from high poverty rates to enrollment growth to low population density.

While the funding formula remained unchanged for the next nine years, according to the commission report, national perspective surrounding education began shifting.
“With the successful launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Nation’s collective eye was turned to the issue of education and specifically science education,” commission members Janice Bissett and Arnold Hillman wrote in the report. “In President Eisenhower’s 1958 State of the Union Address, he outlined a series of activities the federal government must undertake to meet the military and education challenge that the Russians posed.”

Eisenhower called for a four-year $1 billion investment into the Department of Health, Education and Welfare “designed principally to encourage improved teaching quality and student opportunities in the interest of national security.”

The directive spurred the growth of additional science courses for students, science fairs and clubs in public education systems across the country. Graduation requirements also expanded to include science proficiency.

Act 580 of 1966 established the state’s 50-percent subsidy rate to school districts. The new formula reimbursed school districts $1.2 billion in the 1974-75 school year — the highest rate ever until the policy was repealed in 1983, according the Association of Rural and Small Schools report.

The official 1966 formula included variables related to district ratio aid, actual instruction costs and weighted average daily membership. It also established a new base salary for teachers and consolidated the state’s 2,500 school districts into 505.
Department of Education Deputy Secretary Nichole Duffy described weighted average daily membership as the calculation of enrollment figures multiplied by the number of hours students spend in school. She said weights were added to the formula depending on a child’s grade level and whether kindergarten at the school lasted a full or half-day.

During the late 1970s, lawmakers tried to balance its growing subsidy and ensure its fair distribution statewide with the equalized supplement for student learning, but “artificial aid ratios” tied into the original formula “skewed the final distribution.”
In 1983, lawmakers repealed the 50 percent reimbursement guarantee and instead established a factor for education expense (FEE), set at $1,650 through Act 31. The new formula, the equalized subsidy for basic education, added supplements for low income students, local tax efforts and population density per square mile. School districts, under the new law, were guaranteed a minimum of a 2-percent funding increase each year.

One year later, the FEE was increased to $1,725 and the Legislature bumped the minimum funding increase up to 3 percent. In 1985, lawmakers added the small district assistance supplement and capped funding increases between 2 percent and 7.45 percent.

Through 1993, the Legislature created six more funding supplements that tackled challenges related to poverty levels, small districts’ limited ability to increase local taxes, and enrollment growth. In 1994, the hold-harmless provision guaranteed districts would receive state funding at a level no less than the previous year’s allocation.

This provision remains a source of conflict among legislators today: supporters say the money guarantees the survival of small, rural districts who depend on the subsidy due to a limited tax base, while opponents argue the provision stiffs growing school districts in need of extra funds for capital expenditures.

After the results of a 2008 costing-out study determined the state was spending $4.3 billion less than what it should on education, then-Gov. Ed Rendell created a 6-year plan to boost state aid to districts from just over 30 percent to more than 56 percent. In the 2008-09 school year, the Legislature increased basic education by $275 million.

Some 464 school districts that year qualified for a state-share “phase-in” of additional funding targets. Another 235 school districts shared $22.9 million for transition funding. The total basic education funding allocation for the year was $4.87 billion.
Through 2011, school districts collected around $1.6 billion in supplemental funding. Federal stimulus dollars allowed the Legislature to continue to direct additional funding to school districts despite declining state revenues.

In the 2011-12 school year, the stimulus money dried up, and while much of the basic education funding went unreplaced, Gov. Tom Corbett and the Legislature appropriated $233 million in supplemental funds, including a $105 million add-on spread amongst all 500 school districts for “student-focused” initiatives. Another 14 districts split $29 million in supplemental funding for a high incidence of ELL students, personal income disparities and hardship due to subsidy loss.

The Corbett administration, though lambasted by Democrats for cutting basic education subsidies for charter school reimbursement payments and the Accountability Block Grant, among others, has continued supplementing district funding through the current school year, trying to off-set the impact of decreased state spending in poorer districts.

“The costing out study had some very interesting research,” said Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, during the commission’s meeting. “Maybe if we look at low-cost, high performing districts, we might get some insight.”

Browne said that the only component of any formulas used in the past “that has maintained sustainability is relative wealth.”

“Historical review is very valuable at least,” Browne said. “You don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you are and where you’ve been. The foundation of a good formula is predictability and sustainability. Historical actions do not present us that foundation.”

Now you know.

–Christen Smith, Capitolwire

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gender gapWomen’s rights in the United States have made leaps and bounds since the passage of the 19th Amendment. Yet many women today still struggle to crack the proverbial glass ceiling. And it doesn’t take a feminist to convince anyone that the gender gap in 21st-century America remains disgracefully wide. In 2013, the U.S. failed to make the top 10 — or even the top 20 — of the World Economic Forum’s list of the most gender-equal countries. In fact, the U.S. had fallen one spot to No. 23 since 2012 and six spots since 2011 on the WEC’s annual Global Gender Gap Index. Worse, it lagged behind developing nations — including Burundi, Lesotho, Nicaragua and the Philippines — with primary areas of weakness in economic participation and political empowerment.

Pennsylvania ranked 23rd.

Perhaps most apparent about the issue is how far gender inequality stretches in the American workplace environment. Even with all their advances toward social equality thus far, women continue to be disproportionately under-represented in leadership positions. This past March, the Center for American Progress reported that women “are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” And though they comprise the majority of the labor force in the financial services and health care industries, none are head honchos of their companies.

Apart from unequal representation in executive leadership, salary inequity also has been central to the gender gap debate. Few experts dispute the existence of an earnings gap between women and men, but defining the issue in simple terms remains a challenge. Although the U.S. has completely closed its gender education gap, about two-thirds of minimum-wage workers across the country are female, according to the National Women’s Law Center. At a federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, the NWLC points out, a full-time worker would earn only $14,500 a year, placing a three-person family “thousands of dollars below the federal poverty line.”

In observance of Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26, WalletHub crunched the numbers to gauge the scope of gender-based disparities in each of the 50 U.S. states. WalletHub examined 10 key metrics, ranging from the gap in the number of female and male executives to the disparity between women’s and men’s life expectancy to the imbalance of their political representation. By highlighting the most and least gender-egalitarian states, WalletHub accomplished three goals: help women find the best career opportunities, empower them to keep fighting for their rights and encourage states to learn from one another.

Women’s Equality in Pennsylvania (1=best)
• 18th – Earnings Gap
• 31st – Executive Positions Gap
• 38th – Workday Hours Gap
• 32nd – Educational Attainment Gap
• 32nd – Minimum-Wage Workers Gap
• 32nd – Unemployment Rate Gap
• 42nd – Political Representation Gap
For the full report, go to:

http://wallethub.com/edu/best-and-worst-states-for-women-equality/5835/

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By Eric Montarti, Senior Policy Analyst

land banksThere is a new type of bank in town, but instead of operating in the world of deposits, withdrawals and making loans, it deals with property—specifically, dilapidated, worn out, vacant, tax-delinquent, underutilized, unwanted property where it might be impossible to determine who holds title or ownership. This new entity is known as a land bank.

Blighted properties can impose significant costs on local communities and homes nearby that are being kept in good shape. That’s why legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2012 allowed for the creation of land banks by local entities—whether counties or municipalities acting on their own or as a group—so long as the combined population within the land bank’s jurisdiction is a minimum of 10,000.

The thought behind the concept is that it will be singularly focused on returning the types of property it obtains, whether by donation or purchase, to the category of productive and taxpaying use. According to those in favor of land banking, the responsibility of handling the task of vacant and underutilized property is often spread between redevelopment authorities, municipalities, sub-departments of both, non-profit development corporations, etc. and, due to legal restraints, lack of expertise, and “mission creep” the problematic properties become, in essence, no one’s responsibility.

As described by the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, land banks will be able to “discharge and extinguish real property tax liens and claims, with the approval of taxing bodies, and pursue a quiet title action through an expedited procedure”. Those appear to be the main advantageous powers of a land bank in the battle to eliminate blight—and they are powers not possessed by redevelopment authorities, which would logically be the existing entity one would believe is charged with the role of eradicating blight and doing the job land banks are now charged with. Land banks are prohibited from using eminent domain and are permitted to operate only in the territorial limits outlined in the ordinance creating it. The state law does not authorize or establish a funding mechanism for land banks. Funding is left up to the municipalities or counties that establish them.

If taxing bodies and those with claims against a property agree to it, a land bank can discharge or eliminate liens and thus make the property free and clear of the troublesome things that tie up a property and keep it from moving to productive reuse. The land bank has to maintain an inventory of the property it has acquired and make the information available on its website and at its business office.

Once a land bank ordinance is passed, the Pennsylvania Department of State must grant it a certificate of incorporation. As of August 1st four such land banks have been incorporated: Dauphin County, Westmoreland County, Philadelphia, and the City of Pittsburgh.

As these land banks are still getting up and running we cannot perform an evaluation of how well they have carried out the mission of taking problem properties and eradicating blight. However, it is instructive to examine how these land banks will be governed. The ordinances creating these four land banks describe the composition of the board of directors, which vary in size and appointment method. State law stipulates that the board must be an odd number no less than five and no more than eleven.

Elected municipal officials and municipal employees are eligible to serve on the board, but one member must be a resident of the land bank jurisdiction, not be either an elected official or a municipal employee, and must be a member of a civic organization within the land bank jurisdiction. The board is responsible for the by-laws of the land bank, incurring debt, hiring and firing employees, adoption of annual budgets, and property acquisition and disposition. They are to serve without compensation except for reimbursement for expenses incurred related to the land bank.

Two land banks (Dauphin and Westmoreland) set aside seats for the board of the redevelopment authority in each respective county (meaning a seat on the redevelopment authority board means a seat on the land bank board) and the appointment of the board is vested solely in the county commissioners. Having redevelopment authority board members constitute a majority of the land bank board could go one of two ways: it could lead to cooperation and collaboration since both deal in the world of redevelopment, but since the state opted not to vest redevelopment authorities with land banking powers and instead allowed for the creation of separate entities, there could be issues with jurisdiction and responsibilities that these board members will have to navigate. It seems a better legislative solution would have been to grant redevelopment authorities the powers given to land banks and thereby avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts and potential conflicts.

How Many Members of the Land Bank Are There?
Pittsburgh: 9
Philadelphia: 11
Westmoreland: 7
Dauphin: 7

Are Redevelopment Authority Board Members Guaranteed Seats?
Pittsburgh: No
Philadelphia: No
Westmoreland: Yes, 5 Seats
Dauphin: Yes, 5 Seats

Who Appoints the Land Bank Board?
Pittsburgh: Mayor (3), Council (3), Land Bank Board (3)
Philadelphia: Mayor (5), Council (5), Land Bank Board (1)
Westmoreland: County Commissioners
Dauphin: County Commissioners

What is the Length of Term (not counting interim board)?
Pittsburgh: Three Years
Philadelphia: Concurrent with appointing authority and at pleasure of appointing authority
Westmoreland: Five Years
Dauphin: Four Years
• In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the appointees of the Mayor and Council will in turn select the remaining members of the board Pittsburgh’s ordinance specifies that appointees will serve staggered terms; in Dauphin and Westmoreland Counties, those serving on the redevelopment authority board are already serving staggered terms, so the non-redevelopment authority board members will also serve staggered terms.
In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia appointment is shared between the executive and the legislative body and their appointees likewise get a say in the rest of the composition of the board. The land banks in these two municipalities add additional requirements: in Philadelphia board membership is to include people with a background in real estate, planning, and architecture and four members of the board have to have association with a housing or community development organization. In Pittsburgh six of the appointees must have background in those areas and are to be reflective of the geography of the City. The three members that are selected by the board have to be selected from Council districts based on the level of distressed and vacant parcels.

There will certainly be more land banks that will come on line as time progresses, and as properties are acquired and disposed there will be plenty of opportunity to examine the work of these new entities.

Eric Montarti is Senior Policy Analyst for the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

 

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marijuanaAccording to the Tribune-Review, state taxpayers have paid almost $5,000 for Sen. Daylin Leach and three aides to travel to Denver to assess how legalization of marijuana is working and what effect it’s having on everyday life in Colorado.

Leach, D-Montgomery County, a champion of marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, said he sampled marijuana while there last week — using a vaporizer pen, or “vaping,” rather than smoking — but did not charge the vape pen to taxpayers. It was a gift from a facility he toured, an aide said.

The trip cost “a little less than $5,000,” spokeswoman Sarah Charles said.
His Colorado trip is “a total waste of taxpayers’ money for what will be a total blight on society,” Don Thomson, chairman of the Westmoreland County Conservative Coalition. Legalizing marijuana told the Tribune-Review.

In an op-ed piece to newspapers, Leach wrote:

”We wanted to make sure we understood how it works and what Colorado did right, and wrong, in an effort to ensure we do this the right way when the time comes,” said Leach, who predicts that full legalization is inevitable.

“We packed as much information-gathering as we could into our three days. We toured two facilities where the marijuana is grown, one lab where it is processed, one where it is tested for potency and impurities, and two dispensaries.” (See full statement on Capital Watch’s Opinion page)

He described soaring tax revenue, professional handling of marijuana in a regulated environment and reduced crime and traffic accidents.

“The bottom line is that we saw a system that is working,” Leach said. “ … Business is booming to the point that more than one person we talked to likened the coming cannabis explosion to the tech explosion of the ’90s.”

According to the Tribune-Review, The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association opposes full legalization, citing negative health effects of marijuana use, but its executive director, Richard Long, told the paper,“Medical marijuana is a different issue, as it apparently can provide some relief to people with some serious health problems.The newly enacted New York law is a good model and an acceptable bill for Pennsylvania. It would neither allow ingestion by smoking nor driving while impaired by marijuana.”

The Colorado travel charges — for flight, car rental, hotel and meals — will come out of Leach’s office account, Charles said.

Leach told the paper that his aides helped him write bills for legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, and will continue to work on the issue.

“There are many millions of dollars at stake in getting legalization right,” he said. “It seems $5,000 to make sure that happens is a wise investment.”

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