Pittsburgh region school enrollment losses and cost increases since 2000

Summary: The Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has lost a significant percentage of its public school student count since 2000.  At the same time the spending per student has risen twice as fast as the rate of inflation during the period.


Recent Policy Briefs (Vol. 19, Nos. 18 & 20) have examined and discussed population changes in the Pittsburgh MSA (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties) and the impacts on the labor force in the region. One of the key findings was that the labor force has become older with declines in the youngest age groups. This Brief reviews the effects the population losses have had on the number of public school students in the MSA and in the counties over the period 2000 to 2017. It also reviews two districts in Allegheny County.

Nationally, the population rose from 282.2 million in 2000 to 325.1 million in 2017, a gain of 15 percent. During that period, U.S. public school students climbed from 47.2 million to 50.6 million, a 7.2 percent increase and about half the growth rate of the overall population with a preponderance of the student growth occurring before 2012. Indeed, the population of school-age students (5-18 years—not a precise measure since school years are not the same as calendar years and some students enter when they are almost 6 and many graduate when they are 17) has been essentially flat since 2010 at around 62 million.

Over the same period the population in the Pittsburgh MSA fell very slightly from 2,358,000 to 2,357,000. And during those 17 years, public school students (Average Daily Membership) in the seven-county region slid from 348,368 to 296,692, a drop of 51,676 or 14.8 percent, obviously reflecting a major decline in school-age children. Over the period 2010 to 2016, for example, school-age population in the metro area fell by just under 36,000. Note that the public school count includes students enrolled in district schools as well as those in the district who attend charter schools or other institutions for which the district is financially responsible. This number is referred to as Average Daily Member or ADM for short.

By county the largest ADM decline was in Allegheny County with a drop of 24,784. That’s not surprising since the county is by far the largest in terms of population. Westmoreland had the second-biggest loss at 9,096.  No county had an increase. The other county losses were Beaver (5,436), Fayette (4,377), Washington (2,980), Butler (2,830) and Armstrong (2,133). In percentage terms the county losses rank quite differently. Fayette suffered the largest decline at 20.4 percent, followed by Beaver at 19.4 percent and Armstrong at 18.2 percent.  Westmoreland followed at 16 percent and Allegheny at 14.4. The smallest percentage losses were posted by Butler at 10.2 and Washington at 9.7 percent.

More typically, discussion focuses on enrollment rather than ADM as it is the number of students actually attending the district schools as opposed to charter schools or other district paid for education. Starting in 2000, enrollment in metro area school districts stood at 353,323 (just about the same as the ADM count) but by the 2016-17 school year enrollment was down to 274,533. (All school related statistics are taken from the Pennsylvania Education Department website.  School district statistics are summed by county and then for the seven counties in the area.) The decline of 78,720 enrolled represents a loss of 22 percent. Most of the 27,004 gap between the enrollment decline and the drop of 51,676 in ADM is attributed to the rise in charter school enrollment.

The enrollment losses are significantly worse than the ADM declines. That is to say, in addition to the drop in the numbers of K-12-aged students school districts are financially responsible for, the growth in charter-enrolled and other students have further lowered attendees at district schools.  Again, the fall in the number enrolled was largest in Allegheny County which saw a drop of 42,902, followed by Westmoreland (11,673), Beaver (7,616), Fayette (5,237), Washington (4,638), Butler (4,430) and Armstrong (2,224).

Ranking enrollment loss by percentage decrease puts Beaver with the biggest decline at 26.4 percent. The second highest loss was posted by Allegheny at 24.9 percent followed in order by Fayette (24.2), Westmoreland (20), Armstrong (19), Butler (15.4) and Washington (14.7).

Moreover, the sad enrollment and ADM decline picture in the Pittsburgh MSA since 2000 is compounded by massive increases in per ADM spending over the period.  Current expenditures per ADM will be used for comparison of the 2000-01 school year to the 2016-17 school year rather than spending per enrollee since districts have financial obligations for charter schools as well.

School districts in the seven-county MSA spent on average $7,897 per ADM in 2000-01. Allegheny County had the highest average spending for all districts at $8,572 with the lowest in Butler at $6,708. The other counties’ spending per ADM ranged from $7,000 in Westmoreland to $7,966 in Armstrong.

In school year 2016-17 the metro area average per ADM spending was $15,662, a rise of 98.3 percent. Actual total dollars spent on K-12 public education in the region climbed 69 percent but the drop in ADM caused per ADM spending to rise much more rapidly. In 2016-17 Allegheny still had the highest per ADM spending at $16,932, with Armstrong second highest at $15,464 and Butler was still the lowest at $13,477. All counties other than Butler and Fayette had 2016-17 per ADM spending between $14,000 and $15,000.

In terms of percentage increase, Westmoreland was highest at 107 percent followed by Butler at 100, Beaver (99), Allegheny (97.5), Armstrong and Washington (94). The lowest increase was in Fayette at 87 percent.

It is important to bear in mind that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) from 2000 to 2017 rose by 42.3 percent.  The region’s total spending on K-12 education was up by 69 percent during the same period or 63 percent faster than inflation. On a per ADM basis the region’s spending was up 98.3 percent or 132 percent faster than the CPI increase. This was well over twice as fast as the rise in consumer prices.

As noted in an earlier Policy Brief (Vol. 19 No. 12), the state’s hold harmless provision has historically required the state not to reduce district basic education funding from year to year. Thus, the never-reduced funding going to school districts has been a major factor in the rise in per ADM spending in counties that were losing large numbers of students. The question that should be asked is: “Where is all the increase in per ADM spending going and where are the improved academic performance results from the big jumps in per ADM spending?”

The distortions can be dramatic as a couple of examples from Allegheny County demonstrate. Pittsburgh Public Schools per ADM spending rose by 103 percent to $22,282 over the period while its ADM was falling by 31 percent (12,015 students) and enrollment by 41 percent (38,560 to 22,384). Academic performance other than at magnet schools is dreadful and has shown little if any improvement in many Pittsburgh schools.

Meanwhile, Wilkinsburg saw ADM plunge by 43 percent and enrollment by 69 percent between the 2000-01 and 2016-17 school years. Yet, per ADM spending spiked from $9,739 to $25,015, or 157 percent—four times the rate of inflation. What is all that money being used for? Both districts get very large per ADM funding from the state and it has not fallen even as ADM has plummeted.

These examples point to the crying need for the state to rethink its obligation to students as opposed to school boards and the staffs of the school districts that have failed students badly for decades. Loss of population is one thing. Throwing money wastefully at the problem is outrageous.

Some Reality in Education Funding Debates Would Be Helpful

Recently the Governor visited the Clairton School District’s elementary school to continue his push for a much greater level of education funding.  He took the time to chide the Legislature for not allocating enough money to help districts such as Clairton.  He is quoted as saying “I understand that you can’t throw money at any problem, but you can’t keep taking money out…and hope to get a good result.”  The Governor ought to be reminded that over the years, more and more money has been thrown at the problem with little or no improvement in academic achievement.  Our Policy Briefs over the past few years have demonstrated this conclusion many times.


But one more demonstration is called for in view of the fact that the Governor is making the rounds of schools to make his case for more funding.  And, since he was in Clairton to make his pitch, we will start there.  Pennsylvania Department of Education Statistics (DoE) data for the 2004-2005 school year put Clairton City School District total revenue at $12.82 million.  Breaking that down by source, the District collected $3.49 million locally (27 percent), $8.04 million from the state (63 percent) and the remaining amount from Federal sources $1.26 million (about ten percent).


Nearly a decade later,  revenue data for the 2013-2014 school year (the latest available from the DoE), place total revenues at $14.19 million, an increase of nearly eleven percent from 2004-2005.  Again, breaking out the sources of the money shows that the local contribution was $3.88 million (27 percent), the state pitched in $9.63 million (68 percent) while the Fed’s allocation fell to $674,771 (4.75 percent).  The state’s allocation increased by nearly twenty percent, local funding increased over eleven percent, while Federal funding fell by nearly half.  Clearly the money from the state and local taxpayers has been increasing, not falling, over time.


The following table shows how Clairton stacks up with other Pennsylvania districts that have similar enrollment levels for the period studied:  Farrell, Wilkinsburg, and Windber.


District Total Revenues (000s) State Revenues (000s)
2004-05 2013-14 % Change 2004-05 2013-14 % Change
Clairton City SD $12,821 $14,192 10.69 $8,038 $9,635 19.87
Farrell Area SD $13,700 $15,623 14.04 $8,213 $10,188 24.05
Wilkinsburg SD $27,967 $29,652 6.02 $10,415 $11,662 11.97
Windber Area SD $13,240 $15,269 15.32 $9,732 $11,405 17.19



The table above shows that none of the districts experienced a decline in revenue over the decade, either from the state or in total.  However, it does show that the percent increases in state revenue are much larger than boosts in overall revenue. Funding from Federal sources was cut for all but one of the districts (Windber rose 26.75 percent).  Conversely, local funding rose for these four districts.  Contrary to the Governor’s statement above, money has not been taken out of these districts at either the total, state, or local level.


Of course changes in the amounts of revenue are only part of the story. It is also important to look at per pupil numbers. Clairton’s enrollment in 2004-2005, (measured by average daily membership (ADM)) stood at 984.  However, by the 2013-14 school year it had fallen by about seven percent to 917.  Farrell’s enrollment fell 21.4 percent to 836; Wilkinsburg was off 29.3 percent to 1,265 and Windber declined by 15.37 percent to 1,210. As we noted in an earlier Policy Brief (Volume 15, Number55), the hold harmless provision prevents state basic education funding from falling even if enrollment does drop.


These changes in ADM affect the per pupil revenue amounts received by each district.  For the 2013-2014 academic year, Clairton’s total revenue per ADM was $15,478, a near 19 percent jump over the 2004-2005 levels.  This per pupil amount exceeds Windber ($12,621, up 36 percent) but is well below Wilkinsburg ($23,437, up nearly 50 percent), and Farrell ($18,695, up 45 percent).  Again with state revenues continuing to increase, along with local allocations, combined with declines in enrollment kept per pupil revenues climbing.


But, what about the amount of money spent on education?  The Governor and many educrats rarely, if ever, bring up the subject of district spending.  The following table looks at the total spending of the four districts in our sample.


District Total Expenditures (000s) Total Expenditures per ADM
2004-05 2013-14 % Change 2004-05 2013-14 % Change
Clairton City SD $13,317 $14,176 6.45 $13,540 $15,460 14.18
Farrell Area SD $13,378 $15,463 15.59 $12,570 $18,503 47.20
Wilkinsburg SD $26,696 $29,599 10.87 $14.930 $23,395 56.70
Windber Area SD $13,555 $15,502 14.36 $9,493 $12,814 34.98


The table above shows that each district in this small sample had jumps in the amount of total expenditures over the ten year period.  Clairton had the smallest rise while the largest went to Farrell.  More importantly, when compared to the increases to total revenues, only Clairton and Windber had the growth to revenues outpace those of total expenditures.


Against the backdrop of enrollment, we get a better idea of how much is being spent on a per-pupil basis.  As mentioned above, the ADM for these four districts in this sample fell, while for every district total expenditures climbed over the last ten years.  Clairton’s total expenditures per pupil came in at $15,460 (a little below the per-pupil revenues). Clairton total spending per student was about $400 above the state average. The District also spends about $1,600 more per pupil than the state average spending on instruction.


At $12,814 in per pupil expenditures, Windber had the lowest cost of educating its students in the sample. The Windber number is well below Clairton ($15,460), Farrell ($18,500) and Wilkinsburg ($23,395).


Clearly, the increase in education spending and revenues would not be as much of an issue if academic performance was stellar.  As we have said time and again, throwing money at the problem does not guarantee good results.


The following table illustrates the performance of 11th grade students on the Keystone Exams and the attendance rate of the highs schools in each district.


11th Grade Keystone Exams (2013-2014) % Scoring Advanced or Proficient in… Attendance (%)
District Math Reading
Clairton City HS 35.00 43.00 88.64
Farrell Area HS/UMS 18.00 32.00 93.95
Wilkinsburg HS 5.00 6.00 82.17
Windber Area HS 76.00 81.00 94.17


The percent of students scoring advanced or proficient in math is poor in three of the districts but truly abysmal in Wilkinsburg where spending per student is the highest. Only Windber posted a respectable score and it has the lowest expenditures per pupil. The results are similar with the reading portion of the exam.  Windber is the outlier in this sample.  They have a fairly high level of academic achievement yet, on a per-student basis, they spend far less than Clairton, Farrell and Wilkinsburg.


The final indicator taken into consideration is the attendance rate for the respective high schools.  It is no surprise that the district with the worst test scores also had the poorest attendance 82 percent —Wilkinsburg.  We documented the relationship between attendance and academic performance in an earlier Policy Brief (Volume 15, Number 30).


Clairton had an attendance rate below 90 percent while Windber’s was over 94 percent.  The seeming outlier is Farrell.  However, Farrell’s attendance rate also includes that of their upper middle school (UMS) which includes 7th and 8th graders.  Middle school grades typically have better attendance rates than the high schools and it is very possible the overall rate is being lifted by these middle school grades.


In short, the Governor’s call for huge increases in state education funding money is ill-conceived and specious. Data show that poorly performing districts receive and spend plenty of money, most of which comes from state taxpayers.  Yet academic results are frequently simply abominable especially in districts getting per-pupil state funding in excess of the state average. There are several additional PA districts besides those discussed here—such as Pittsburgh—that also spend large sums for mediocre results.


Rather than blithely repeating claims that education spending is inadequate, the Governor should be concerned about how so much state money can be spent and yet produce so little in the way of academic achievement. Maybe he could even ask his so-called experts if they have an answer to that question.  Obviously, if money were the answer, the problem would have been solved long ago. It would be instructive to spend some time studying districts such as Windber to see what they are doing to achieve good results with well below state average spending. As a start, the study might focus some attention on attendance rates that are so problematic at many of the failing schools.

Governor’s Budget Proposal Seems to Be a Non-Starter

The budget proposed for fiscal year 2015-16 is facing a lot of skepticism as being too aggressive, too far reaching and ill-considered.  In short, it ought to be viewed as a non-starter.


In the first place, it seeks to make far more major structural changes than can possibly be thoroughly analyzed and evaluated by the General Assembly before June 30. These changes include hefty increases to sales and income taxes, levying a severance and per cubic foot tax on the Marcellus Shale industry, cutting corporate net income tax with major changes in factors determining tax liability, altering the operations of the liquor stores, an increase in tobacco product taxes, issuing bonds to fund green energy projects, raising the minimum wage to $10 and tying it to inflation, major amendments and expansion of health care provided by the state, and setting up funds to distribute income tax revenue to property tax relief.  All told, the proposed tax increases when fully implemented in 2016 would generate an expected $6.5 billion in additional annual revenue.


These changes, not to mention dozens of other smaller ones, will take months to wade through from an economic analysis standpoint and much longer to deal with politically.   There is much opposition to many of these proposals. Moreover, there is only a minimal nod toward solving the gigantic pension crisis that will require more than just throwing money at it or kicking the can down the road again. The state’s credit rating has been lowered because of the failure to grapple with the monstrous problem.  And absent meaningful reforms soon, the credit rating agencies might well lower the rating again.


Writing off the sale of the liquor stores will not sit well with many members of the Legislature.  Raising the minimum wage by a third will not sit well with employers and is unlikely to get much traction in the Legislature.


On the spending side, the budget plan calls for huge increases ($100 million) in pre-K programs and special education as well as a $400 million rise in basic education funding. Presumably, the severance tax is supposed to cover much of the education spending increase. Enacting a severance tax appears to be very unlikely at this time. Interestingly, the state’s normal funding for school pensions is not in the proposed budget.  There is however, a $1.75 billion transfer of funds into a restricted account for school employee pensions.


In a cautionary note, it is important to bear in mind that the economic and employment forecast for the next several years is a matter of concern. The revenue forecasts in the budget are based on a doubling of growth in incomes and employment in 2015 from the 2014 pace. The faster pace would persist through 2016, lifting the state’s economic fortunes to a much higher plateau. But as many have learned to their dismay, economic forecasts can be very unreliable and lead to major shortfalls of predicted revenue.


A key element in the budget is the plan for dramatic changes to education funding. Education is slated to receive sizable increases in appropriations over the next five years in the Governor’s proposal. This is in line with, and follows the philosophy of, the educational establishment who suffer from the belief that every academic shortcoming can be fixed by dumping more money on it.


Before the General Assembly considers the proposed major increases in spending, the Governor needs to explain some things to taxpayers.  In the first instance, he needs to explain how it is that Peters Township schools spent only $11,602 per student in 2012-13 ($3,000 per student less than the state average and merely $2,608 per student from the state) and had 93 percent of 11th grade test takers in 2013-14 scoring proficient or higher on the PSSA math test and 98.6 percent proficient or higher in reading. These proficiency levels are far above the 70 percent range of scores in the statewide averages. Then too, Greater Latrobe spent only $11,800 per student (about $3,000 below the state average) and has almost 30 percent of the students classified as economically disadvantaged. Yet 85 percent of the district’s 11th graders scored proficient or higher in math and 93 percent scored proficient or higher on reading.


Consider the Hampton district where per student spending is $1,000 below the state average but the high school is ranked as the 8th best in the state, even including all the magnet academies. Then there is Mt. Lebanon where per pupil spending is only slightly higher than the state average yet manages to rank consistently among the top tier of academically performing districts in Pennsylvania.   Many other examples could be cited but these make the point that hefty spending is not necessary to achieve excellent or very respectable academic outcomes.


Now consider two districts that spend over $20,000 per student—Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg.  Bear in mind that despite having a fairly high local funding capability, Pittsburgh received $9,000 per student from the state in 2012-13. Note, in an interesting aside, the North Hills District with PA Education Department aid ratios that are virtually identical to Pittsburgh’s received only $3,411 per pupil.


Notwithstanding its enormous expenditures per pupil, Pittsburgh’s academic performance is very weak. Indeed, in the City’s high schools, other than a couple of magnets and Allderdice, the PSSA scores are lower than in 2008. At the five non-magnet high schools only 30 percent of 11th graders were able to score at the proficient level on the latest year’s math test; in a couple of schools fewer than 20 percent were proficient. The schools’ reading proficiency was equally disappointing.  Among K-8 PSSA test takers barely 60 percent scored proficient or better in math and only 53 percent in reading. It is a sad but undeniable truth that while not good, the elementary and middle school academic achievement levels are still much higher than the 11th grade performance.


Note that Pittsburgh spends a fifth of its school budget, or about $100 million, on special education including programs such as pre-K and early intervention—areas where the Governor wants to greatly increase spending.


In Wilkinsburg, despite the $21,000 per student expenditures, only 8 percent of 11th graders were proficient in math and 13 percent in reading. At the middle school only 24 percent scored proficient in math and 33 percent in reading.  The elementary scores were modestly better than the middle school but still far below a level to create any encouragement that the schools were effectively educating the students in their charge.


It is important to point out that the high schools in Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg share a common devastating  problem—high absenteeism.  With official attendance rates hovering at 80 percent (for both districts) that means the average student is absent 36 days per year and some probably out 50 or more. The low attendance rate suggests strongly that a large fraction of students have no interest in education and a woeful lack of commitment to getting one.


How can the General Assembly be asked to spend a lot more money to educate students who have no interest in learning?


The Governor needs to explain why more dollars will not simply feed the maw of ineffective spending when the problem in many schools is a lack of interest on the part of so many students.  More spending cannot solve the underlying causes of the poor academic performance, as much as advocates want to believe it will. They need to offer some evidence before the Legislature considers massive increases in spending. Improving third grade or even seventh grade scores is not enough if that fails to translate into 12th graders who are ready to go out into the world as employees or postsecondary students. When large numbers of students are graduating as functional illiterates, the schools have failed regardless of how excited school boards are about third grade scores.


In short, there are very good school districts in Pennsylvania that spend a moderate amount per student and some very poorly performing ones that spend enormous amounts of money. It should be obvious that huge additional dollops of money are not the answer to what is wrong with the poorly performing schools.


Equally disturbing is the continuing claim that the previous Governor cut a billion dollars out of the state’s education budget. In fact, it was the previous Governor’s predecessor who cut state funds to education. Of course, he had the luxury of using a big chunk of Pennsylvania’s “stimulus” money.  So, even with the recession and falling state revenue he was able to increase school funding using Federal money.


But as we know, his successor would have no such good fortune. Federal funds fell by well over a billion dollars, and the state was facing a $3 billion dollar deficit. Nonetheless, the newly inaugurated Governor added back $250 million in state money to education expenditures.  But the loss of a billion Federal dollars simply could not be made up in the economic environment that existed. Unfortunately, the exploitation of that situation by politicians who conveniently forget how the previous Governor had set the whole thing in motion by using up large chunks of the stimulus money has become part of the enduring political narrative.


In sum, the new Governor’s first budget is predicated on easily refuted arguments and tired old rhetoric and is unlikely to get very far without substantial modifications.

Governor Gets It Terribly Wrong on Education Spending

Speaking to group of Pennsylvania teachers on June 22, Governor Rendell tried to make the case for asking the Legislature to approve an additional $355 million in education spending in the 2010-2011 budget.  In his remarks he said school district budget cuts are hurting schools across the state. To illustrate this claim he pointed to Penn Hills where 49 teachers have been furloughed.  Too bad the Governor’s aides had not read the news accounts regarding the furloughs.

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Rendell and Evans: What a Comedic Duo

Governor Rendell is looking for ways to add over $300 million to the state’s current education expenditures. New taxes seem to be on the Governor’s mind. Rendell wants Pennsylvania to be one of a very small number of states that are actually increasing education spending during the economic downturn. Once again he is telling the teachers’ unions not to worry, he will make sure they get the funding needed to cover their raises and maybe even get some new teachers hired.

The economic perversity is beyond description. Let’s raise taxes in a soft economy to protect public sector employees from having to make any sacrifices during the prolonged slowdown. Apparently the notion that higher taxes could hamper the state’s return to any semblance of vitality has escaped the Governor. And making matters worse, years of ever increasing spending (adjusted for inflation) has brought little or no improvement to the state’s SAT scores or high school academic performance. Abysmal science scores point to ineptitude of the highest order in far too many schools. But the Governor insists on throwing more money at schools rather than looking for real solutions. If money were the answer to poor academic performance, Pittsburgh would be one of the top school districts in the country.

Not to be outdone by silliness when it comes to statements about taxes, the spokesperson for Rep. Dwight Evans said the Governor is right to talk about the need for more revenue and apparently with a straight face went on to observe, "Is there any appetite right nowto do new taxes? I am not getting that sense." An understatement if ever there was one. Indeed, if Rep. Evans would talk to a few Pennsylvanians outside his own district he would not only find there is no appetite for new taxes, there is a lot of desire to see taxes reduced.

All this economic and budget silliness talk would be funny if these folks were not in charge of the government.

Money for Teachers, Not for State Police

Pennsylvania’s Governor has insisted on massive increases in education spending, much to the delight of his close allies in the teachers union, hikes that are a major factor in the state’s current fiscal crisis. But now we learn there is no money for a cadet class of state police troopers. How derelict in the state’s duty to its citizens.

The state police are a key and important core function of government. There can be no excuse for the underfunding of these police when more spending is being squeezed out for teacher funding. Teachers have paid no price during the recession and fiscal crisis across Pennsylvania. Raises have continued, health care benefits paid, few if any layoffs have occurred, and the right to strike remains in place.

And what have we got in return for the big jumps in education spending in recent years? Flat to lower SAT scores-the gold standard when it comes to measuring educational attainment. Since Rendell became Governor Pennsylvania’s SAT scores have actually declined slightly. North Carolina, where average spending per student is thousands of dollars less per year than Pennsylvania, has marginally higher SAT scores. And the union argument that Pennsylvania has a greater percentage of students taking the test does not hold water. The percentages in North Carolina and Pennsylvania are close (in 2003, 74% in PA, 70% in NC).

All this points to an unfortunate reality: to wit, the political power of the unions and the education establishment, who together can so distort government policy to their wants, is nothing short of breathtaking.

Rendell Claus, One of Obama Claus’ Elves

In a pre-Christmas press conference Pennsylvania’s Governor decided to play Santa to the teachers union and the public education establishment. Notwithstanding the obvious and pressing need to relieve taxpayers of some of the burden of the coming massive deficits in the state budget–as well as the ballooning shortfall in the state employee pension fund and the enormous pending increase in funding the state teachers’ pensions will require–the Governor says he will include another increase in state funding for education in the next budget year.

It can be concluded from the Governor’s intentions that he places public education above every other function of government and far above hard pressed taxpayers. And the dirty and cynical shame of it is that all higher spending does is beget more demands for spending. State taxpayers, paying both property and state taxes, can be forgiven if they begin to chafe and complain loudly about the generosity government chooses to bestow on public sector employees. While other states have had to make cuts in education spending in the face of economic reality, in Pennsylvania school employees are awarded special protected status. Not even a request to voluntarily freeze teacher pay has been uttered by any public official even though tens of thousands of their fellow citizens have lost jobs, are on short hours, or, worse yet, have faced losing their homes.

Of course it is of a piece with the situation at the national level where government hiring and pay raises are running rampant. Tragically, we are witnessing the turning of the vision of the Founding Fathers on its head. Rather than being the servant of the people, government has become the master as the people have become docile and acquiescent in the face of vanishing liberty. Santa Rendell is simply the local version of the atrocity that is and has been happening to the nation.

While we can still say it, Merry Christmas to all.

Pittsburgh Promise Tries to Make Up for Broken Prior Promise

There is much rejoicing in the office of the Pittsburgh Promise program as well in the Mayor’s and Superintendent’s office. Several million more dollars have been squeezed from the corporate community to ensure that UPMC’s pledge of $10 million will be forthcoming.

The Promise program was established to provide college scholarships to graduates of the City’s high schools in an effort to stanch the flood of students abandoning the public school system-a bribe by another name. And why is the bribe necessary? Because the school system has been, and continues to be, an almost utter failure in delivering quality education to the majority of its students. So parents are enticed to stay in the City or move into the City in order for their children to get help with college expenses.

But the supreme irony is that the larger and more morally important promise to provide a good education implicit in the district’s very existence has not simply been broken, it has been shattered. Having failed in its moral obligation, the school district and the City have launched an effort to keep kids in the schools. Their first and primary obligation should be to restore a quality education program that achieves good results. When that happens, parents will not have to be bribed to send their children to Pittsburgh’s schools.

After all, the expenditure of over $20,000 per pupil ought to be enough to get the job done. The fact that it isn’t getting done argues for dramatic changes and reforms in the management and oversight of the schools. Some real competition and choice through a voucher program would do wonders for the public schools. They would either get better or disappear. Instead, the Pittsburgh solution is in place: Ignore the real underlying causes of the problems and just throw more money at the them. Money that could be spent on far better things.

Of course all this depends on a corporate and foundation community that is willing to spend money on politically correct things as opposed to things that might actually work-such as a corporate scholarship program to let students choose a school other than the public school.