Transparency Bills Could Help School Districts Avoid Outsourcing of Public Services That Lowers Quality and Raises Costs

Publication Date: 
December 1, 2017

Pennsylvania’s public schools employ tens of thousands of support professionals – bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, maintenance workers, secretaries, paraprofessionals, and others. Due to fiscal challenges that many local districts face, school administrators often look to achieve savings and flexibility by outsourcing the provision of public services by education support staff.

Research shows that there are significant downsides in some cases to outsourcing by state and local government, including lower quality services and increases in costs. Moreover, when outsourcing lowers quality or raises costs, changing the contractor or bringing work back in house may have up-front and transition costs. These costs can lock school districts into unfavorable outsourcing arrangements for the long term. This potential reinforces how important it is to get decisions to outsource or keep work in house right in the first place.

To avoid counterproductive outsourcing of non-instructional pubic services by Pennsylvania public schools, companion House and Senate bills – one with a Republican prime sponsor (HB 1914) and one with a Democratic prime sponsor (SB 795) – would require, prior to outsourcing:

  • a solicitation of proposals publicly accessible online and at the school administrative office;
  • a minimum three-year projection of costs after outsourcing;
  • a public hearing to present the selected proposal and receive public input;
  • information on legal or regulatory violations by the private company and criminal records of its employees;
  • hiring preference at contractors for school employees whose employment was terminated due to outsourcing and who held the same or substantially similar position when employed by the district; and
  • a guarantee that schools may terminate outsourcing if costs exceed those projected.

Justice Louis Brandeis once said that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” When it comes to outsourcing support services by school districts, Justice Brandeis was right. Providing additional transparency when school districts consider outsourcing, and an escape route if savings do not result, can reduce the number of cases in which districts regret outsourcing because it increases taxpayer costs, compromises the quality of educational support services, or undercuts the quality of jobs for members of the local community.

The rest of this brief summarizes research and public opinion polling that make the case for transparency and safeguards against counterproductive outsourcing provided by the Senate and House bills.

Read the full brief.