Public Education and the Public Term Paper

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society that the public may claim a greater intellectual stake in than public education. Not only is the process of educating the next generation (at least in public schools) undertaken at the expense of most residents, but it also concerns us in a cultural way as well - we will all have to live in the world that these children will inhabit and help to shape, regardless of whether we ourselves are parents.

And yet, despite the legitimacy of the claim that members of the general public may make to their own engagement in the process of public education, relatively few people who are not themselves parents of public-school children do become deeply involved (and relatively few of these). This does not mean, of course, that people do not have strongly held opinions about matters of educational policy.

This literature review examines two related, indeed often intermingled, sets of subjects. The first of these is an examination of those subjects that might in some objective sense be said to be of most concern for public education at the beginning of the 21st century, particularly in terms of public education in the state of Pennsylvania. The second set of issues that this literature review addresses is the extent to which members of the public are in fact engaged in (or hold clear opinions on) those issues.

While the public focused on is in most case those parents who are directly concerned because of their children's education, it also includes political groups as well as advocacy groups such as those holding views on the ethics and propriety of standardized testing. All of these groups (and others) may be considered to have a legitimate interest in the process of public education. Parents should not be considered to be the only sector of the public with a legitimate interest in the public education process.

Disparities in - and Realities of - School Funding

Of all of the concerns about public school, the most overriding is the issue of school funding, because all other issues at least to some extent flow from this. If schools have to close their doors because they cannot pay teachers or electric bills, then any debate about the content of the pedagogy are irrelevant.

Good Schools Pennsylvania, a statewide, grassroots organization that brings together a number of educational and religious groups that was established to advocate higher levels of public funding as well as to pressure state government along with local school board to bring about certain kinds of reform, provides a succinct - if rather - overview of what it terms the "crisis" in both funding and lack of reform in the state schools.

One of the primary concerns of this group (and of course this is a significant concern for advocates of school reform nationwide) is the disparity that exists between different school districts across the state. This disparity has become of ever greater concern over the past generation as overall funding for schools has dropped. (Disparity is much less a concern if even the lowest funded schools have enough money).

Since 1975, state funding of public schools has dropped from 55% to around 35%. School districts have made up this difference by raising property taxes, but because of varying tax rates throughout the state, some students may receive as much as $14,341 a year, while several towns away, a child may only receive $4,637 a year. This inequity in public school funding has led to a lack of resources in some schools, while wealthy schools can afford the best in technology, smaller class sizes, and more academic support.

In testimony before the state House Select Committee on Public Education last fall, Jill Hegdal outlined some of what are perceived by many to be some of the most serious problems in terms of funding inequities in the state's school system.

In February 2000, the state of Pennsylvania increased funds for private and parochial schools by 3.9%, even though enrollments in those institutions declined by 2.9% since the 1989-1990 school years. Public schools on the other hand experienced a 9.7% increase in enrollment in the same period and received only a 2.9% increase in funding.

What had been a 50-50 state-local partnership in the early 1970s to pay for education is now a 35-65 state-local partnership. Local communities have had to raise $1.8 billion in property taxes to cover costs in the last decade.

The wealthiest 10 districts in the state can afford to spend an average of $11,495 per student with an average millage of 16.47, while the poorest 10 must get by spending only $5,716 per child per year, while taxing an average millage of 22.4.

It is clear from these figures that there is a substantial degree of disparity amongst in terms of funding levels of different school districts, a disparity that results in Pennsylvania (as in other states across the country) from the fact that a very large percentage of school budgets derives from property taxes. Because property taxes are progressive (with the owners of more expensive pieces of property paying more in taxes) school districts located in wealthier neighborhoods receive on average more funding.

This will continue to be the case until schools are funded out of a common pool (with, for example), every school in the state receiving exactly the same amount for every pupil. It should be noted, however, that even a perfectly equitable degree of public funding would not necessarily create schools that were evenly funding. For example, Los Angeles-are schools (which to begin with receive different levels of funding based on differences in the property-tax base of different neighborhoods) are further differentiated by parent support groups. Those parents in wealthy neighborhoods (in which the schools already receive a higher degree of funding) receive donations (often in the four or five figures) from parents so that the schools can supplement their offerings.

However, while it is undeniable that funding disparities exist amongst school districts in Pennsylvania as elsewhere, exactly how dire this situation is depends very much on the context in which one views the budget figures. Each side in the debate over the proper level of school funding (and how school funding should be meshed with ideas about school reform, which often require reallocating money from one portion of the educational budget to another) uses figures to its own advantages (somewhat on the order of "lies, damned lies, and statistics").

Good Schools Pennsylvania, for example, uses figures ranging back to 1975 to demonstrate how school funding has fallen dramatically. IssuesPA, a project of the Pennsylvannia Economy League, however, focuses on figures from the last 10 to 15 years, which suggest that school funding is not in an bad a shape after all. IssuesPA briefings on education overall suggest that the budget figures for state spending on education can be interpreted in more than one way. While education reform advocates see the glass of state money being a good deal more than half empty, a more objective perspective on the issues reveals that it is in fact fairly full - at least in relative terms.

Source: Pennsylvania State Budgets

Trends in basic education spending demonstrate the state's financial commitment to education compared to all other demands for

Pennsylvania's overall declining rate of education spending proves education funding allocations have not increased as fast as funding for other functions. This usually means school districts must make up the differences, mostly through local

It is certainly true that over the last 30 years, local school districts have assumed a greater share of the responsibility for funding education, a trend that has tended to increase funding disparities amongst districts. However, this does not necessarily mean that there is less money for education in Pennsylvania, because school districts now have more non-state funding sources available to them than they once did.

While always acknowledging that education is an expensive task that is all too often under-funded, it is imperative that the degree of funding that is available to Pennsylvania students be understood within both an historical and a national context. Pennsylvania schools are relatively well funded both in terms of large states in the United States

Pennsylvania schools are less well funded than are schools in New York and New Jersey (to which there is perhaps a natural regional tendency to compare themselves), but better funded than neighboring Ohio schools - and better funded than California schools that have immense demands placed on them because of the large number of immigrant students in those schools. Moreover, Pennsylvania schools top the national average in terms of school funding.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data

This does not mean that the state should feel that it can rest on its laurels. There remain at least two serious questions about the nature of public education funding in the state of Pennsylvania. The first of these is a question of absolute numbers: Pennsylvania may well rank above…

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