The fight for a fair education funding formula in Pennsylvania has recently come to a compression point. The Pennsylvania Supreme court heard arguments earlier this month stemming from a lawsuit brought forth by education advocates, and policy experts are watching to see what the implications will be. It’s why PA Spotlight must again shine a light on the disconcerting analysis the Commonwealth Foundation, which bills itself as a “non-partisan think tank”, is pushing out. The Commonwealth Foundation’s interpretation is misleading and falls in their familiar frame of “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” to quote Mark Twain.
If you’re not familiar with the Mark Twain quote, it references how individuals can use correct statistics to bolster faulty and less than compelling arguments. In this case, the Commonwealth Foundation is using a misleading figure to continue their crusade against public schools and by extension teacher unions – not for benevolent policy purposes, but to further their extreme political agenda known as “Project Goliath.”
A study published last year, which gained widespread media attention, found that Pennsylvania schools are the most inequitable in the country. Yet, the narrative the Commonwealth Foundation has been pushing during the last week is Pennsylvania school’s local revenue is $3,000 more than the national average. Instead of focusing on the Pennsylvania children being left behind by an inequitable funding formula, the Commonwealth Foundation willfully misrepresents the policies they get quoted as “experts” on.
The enormous discrepancy between the poorest and richest school districts in Pennsylvania is the widest in the country and is central to this lawsuit. The statistics the Commonwealth Foundation are touting do nothing to demonstrate this fact or provide important context. Nor do they look at student performance, discrepancies between rural and urban areas, school maintenance, the effects of charter reimbursements, or for that matter much of anything else besides a cherry-picked statistic that bolsters their extreme agenda.
This begs the question, who are the Commonwealth Foundation advocating for? Is it rural districts? No, one of the plaintiffs in the fair funding lawsuit is the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. Is it people of color? No, one of the plaintiffs is the NAACP. Is it cities? No, Lancaster is a plaintiff, and Philadelphia has filed as a friend of the court. So who is it?
The Commonwealth Foundation is advocating for the extreme right-wing interests that view children’s education as merely an opportunity for profit and that funnel millions of dollars to the Commonwealth Foundation to help them do so.