Issue Summary (Updated January 2009)
Pittsburgh Public Schools
The Pittsburgh Public School system is too expensive, with general fund expenditures of nearly $20,000 per pupil. For these outlays, taxpayers are not getting a decent return as the district’s pupils continue to rank near the bottom of academic achievement across the state. As a result of high taxes and poor academic performance, the district continues to lose students with enrollment falling below 27,000, from 38,500 in 2001. In order to reverse this trend, the City and the School District have embraced a college scholarship program called the Pittsburgh Promise.
What We Know:
Despite spending lots of money on a per student basis, only 53 percent of 11th graders scored proficient on state reading exams and 44 percent scored proficient on math exams. At some high schools the proficiency level is less than 20 percent.
The district is hemorrhaging enrollment at a greater rate than the continuing declines of the City of Pittsburgh. Parents of school age children are moving to other school districts or looking for private, religious, or charter school options for educating their children.
Now the City, the School District and the foundation community has launched the Pittsburgh Promise, a program that would guarantee college aid to City public school students who maintain a minimum grade point average and attend a pre-approved post- secondary institution. The program amounts to little less than a bribe and is a poor substitute for a quality education.
There is a better way. Pittsburgh could make a bold statement by offering families in the District a $10,000 voucher (1/2 of what they are currently spending per student) to send children to the school of their choice. Parents opting to take the vouchers would obviously forgo any Promise scholarship funds for their child, so those who choose the $10,000 would clearly value education quality now above the Promise scholarship money that requires keeping their kids in Pittsburgh schools for many years. Does the District have the courage to try that experiment? Doubtful if the past is any guide.
More simply, they could also simply reduce per student outlays by $5,000 to a far more reasonable, but still high, $15,000. Based on an enrollment of 26,000, that reduction would free up $130 million for scholarships, vouchers, or an assortment of other programs without the unseemly necessity of going to foundations and corporations for additional money for education in a City that already spends far too much for far too little return.
Allegheny Institute References:
Adding Up the Costs of Pittsburgh School District’s Failures
A Pittsburgh Education Success Story
School Lessons from Milwaukee
Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth
The Ongoing Abandonment of Pittsburgh Public Schools