Audio: Helping Teachers Speak Out

AUGUST 27, 2015  | by JONATHAN REGINELLA

Teachers across Pennsylvania are being forced to contribute their hard-earned dollars to partisan politics and organizations they do not agree with.

Some brave teachers–such as Linda Misja and Jane Ladley–are fed up with this injustice and are speaking out.

Brittney Parker, CF’s Community Liaison, spoke with Dom Giordano of WPHT Talk Radio 1210 on the Free to Teach initiative, a resource available for teachers like Linda and Jane who are taking a stand against coercive union practices.

Brittney outlines many of Free to Teach’s useful tools, including the Teacher’s Bill of Rights.

Many teachers, as Brittney points out, are not aware of their rights because their unions keep them in the dark on resignation periods and union processes–complicated barriers for teachers who have questions or want to exit their union.

“We will answer teachers' questions, help them go over their collective bargaining agreement, and figure out when their resignation windows are. We can help them find a voice and be that voice for teachers who just want to be able to make decisions that are best for their own lives.”

Click here or listen below to learn more about Free to Teach.

Connect with Free to Teach on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

The Dom Giordano Show airs every weekday from 9 am – 12 pm. 

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Wolf’s Ugly Record on Education

AUGUST 27, 2015  | by JAMES PAUL

Families in Chester Upland breathed a sigh of relief this week after a Delaware County Judge rejected Gov. Tom Wolf’s efforts to arbitrarily slash payments for the district’s cyber and special needs charter students.

From The Inquirer:

After a hearing that stretched over two days, Judge Chad Kenney said the commonwealth's plan was "wholly inadequate" to restore the district to financial stability. He also faulted the state's and district's lawyers as failing to provide "meaningful specifics or details" as to how they arrived at the plan.

The ruling is a victory for Chester families pursuing high quality education—and an embarrassing setback for an administration fixated on limiting school choice in Pennsylvania.

In less than a year, Gov. Wolf has established an ugly record on education policy. Here's a recap: 

  • In March, Wolf removed Bill Green as chairman of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission (SRC) after the SRC approved merely 5 of 39 applicants from new charter schools. This was a clear message that even tepid support for charters will not be tolerated.
  • Wolf’s proposed state budget includes massive cuts to cyber schools—reducing their revenue by one-third—and denies all charters the right to maintain rainy day reserve funds. Recent events in Salisbury and Bethlehem underscore why charters deserve to hold reasonable fund balances.
  • Wolf undermined the recovery plan in York City School District, effectively forcing out the district’s chief recovery officer as retribution for his support of charter schools.  
  • Wolf personally lobbied three Democratic state representatives who bucked party leadership in support of legislation that would protect excellent public school teachers from furloughs. After the governor met personally with Reps. Davidson, Harris, and Wheatley, the trio of Democrats were no-shows for a vote on a key amendment to the bill.
  • Wolf attempted to balance Chester Upland’s budget on the backs of special education charter students. Chester students are otherwise relegated to a school system Wolf admits “failed its students” and has been “mismanaged for over 25 years.”
  • Wolf’s Department of Education issued a “kill order” to Education Plus Academy, a cyber charter school that primarily serves special needs students, one week before the start of the school year. Why is the administration threatening to shut down Ed Plus? For spending too much time educating students in person, and not enough time engaging in strictly online instruction.

Given that educational choice continues to deliver positive results for students and families, one can only wonder why Gov. Wolf is so vehemently opposed to it. 


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Location, Location, Location

AUGUST 26, 2015  | by BOB DICK

What do real estate values and tax bills have in common? Both are driven by location. In a new report, the Tax Foundation provides a comprehensive analysis of the tax burdens faced by seven types of businesses in all 50 states. And the news for Pennsylvania isn't good.

Here’s how the foundation calculated the businesses’ tax rates, which determine each state’s rankings:

Tax Foundation economists designed seven model firms—a corporate headquarters, a research and development facility, an independent retail store, a capital-intensive manufacturer, a labor-intensive manufacturer, a call center, and a distribution center—and KPMG tax specialists calculated each firm’s tax bill in each state. This study accounts for all business taxes: corporate income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, unemployment insurance taxes, capital stock taxes, inventory taxes, and gross receipts taxes. Additionally, each firm was modeled twice in each state: once as a new firm eligible for tax incentives and once as a mature firm not eligible for such incentives.

So how does Pennsylvania stack up to other states? If you guessed poorly, you’re correct. Check out Pennsylvania's tax rates for each of the seven businesses:

As the chart above reveals, only manufacturing businesses enjoy a relatively low tax burden because of how the tax rate is applied to manufacturers’ sales. Meanwhile, non-manufacturing businesses—like a corporate headquarters or distribution center—face some of the highest tax rates in the country.

Make no mistake: Tax rates matter. States with lower taxes see better job, income, and population growth. On the other hand, high tax states like Pennsylvania consistently struggle in these three categories. The state needs to chart a new economic course to empower both workers and entrepreneurs with life-changing opportunities.

We just can’t continue with the same old, same old.


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Audio: A Look at Gov. Wolf's "Concessions"

AUGUST 26, 2015  | by JONATHAN REGINELLA

As state budget negotiations drag on, Gov. Wolf is pointing the finger at Republicans, claiming they have refused to move after he made “concessions on everything." So what compromises are included in these so-called concessions?

To name a few, Wolf’s original spending plan; Wolf’s original plan to increase the income tax; Wolf’s original plan to increase the sales tax; and Wolf’s original plan to borrow $3 billion in pension obligation bonds.

CF’s Matt Brouillette spoke with Gary Sutton on WSBA yesterday to discuss Gov. Wolf’s alleged budget compromises.

Matt explained how Gov. Wolf’s pension plan only includes reforms for 5 percent of current employees. It would do little to upend the destructive status quo, ensuring the pension system's problems are passed onto future generations.

Legislative leaders wisely rejected this “compromise” while responding with their own offer–one they hope will lead Gov. Wolf to abandon his unpopular budget proposal.

Click here or listen below to hear more.

The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.

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Vince Hughes: A Brave Man

AUGUST 26, 2015  | by NATHAN BENEFIELD

In March, Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled a massive tax increase of $12 billion over the next two years. Sen. Vince Hughes offered this tax plan—or 97 percent of it, as the natural gas tax would be separate legislation—as SB 117.

This bill can never become law—revenue bills cannot begin in the Senate under the state constitution, but must originate in the House of Representatives. Yet, no one in the House has yet introduced this legislation.

In fact, when Wolf's plan was voted on in the House as an amendment to another tax bill offered by Republicans, it received zero votes in support, and 193 in opposition—including from members of Wolf's own party. Similarly, SB 117 has no cosponsors

That is to say, Sen. Vince Hughes is the only Pennsylvania lawmaker willing to endorse Gov. Wolf's tax plan. 

Why is Gov. Wolf's tax increase so unpopular with lawmakers, even fellow Democrats? As we've noted before, this proposal: 

It takes a lot of bravery for Sen. Hughes to stand alone in support of Gov. Wolf's tax increases that would devastate working families across Pennsylvania. 


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Will Wolf Take 'Yes' for an Answer?

AUGUST 25, 2015  | by NATHAN BENEFIELD

On June 30, state lawmakers passed a budget that offers $10.4 billion in state support for public schools. This represents an all-time high—indeed, an increase from last year’s all-time high—and represents a $1 billion increase since 2010-11.

Recently, legislative leaders offered Gov. Wolf a deal that would increase education spending by another $300 million. At the time of this writing, Gov. Wolf is “still considering” this offer. The governor is struggling to take "yes" for an answer.

The chart below compares the budget passed by the General Assembly, the compromise offered by Republican leaders, and Governor Wolf's proposal (which comes with $8 billion annually in new taxes on working families).

Support of Public Education Veto


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Why Teachers Need a Bill of Rights

AUGUST 25, 2015  | by GINA DIORIO

Mary loves teaching culinary arts, but she doesn’t want her name used in political mailers. Jane spent a career in the classroom, but she can’t donate the money she earned to her chosen scholarship fund. And Frank is a veteran teacher who wants to resign his union membership but can’t until 2017, after he is eligible for retirement.

Mary, Jane, and Frank are just a few of Pennsylvania’s teachers inspired by a passion to educate but, stymied by the union leaders charged with representing them. Now, they are speaking out in support of the Teacher’s Bill of Rights, presented by Free to Teach (FTT), a project of the Commonwealth Foundation.

FTT aims to enshrine a Teacher’s Bill of Rights into law to end the exploitation of Pennsylvania educators by the politically powerful. The list of rights includes:

  • The right to associate professionally as I choose, without being forced to contribute financially to any organization I do not support.
  • The right to be rewarded as a professional based on my job performance.
  • The right to protect my paycheck and not be forced to fund political views I oppose.
  • The right to have flexibility to meet the learning needs of students regardless of job action stipulations by the union.
  • The right to employment based on merit, not just years of experience.

Regrettably, these rights are only aspirations for most Pennsylvania teachers. Under the current system, many teachers are mistreated at the hands of their union. Here are a few examples:

  • Frank is trapped. Frank, a high school teacher in Lackawanna County and 28-year member of the National Education Association, disagrees with the political causes his dues support. When he learned of his right to resign union membership, he also learned his current contract prohibits him from leaving the union until June 2017, after he is eligible for retirement. “The union does not represent or even respect my deeply held convictions,” Frank says. “It forces me to violate them.”
  • Mary was exploited. Williamsport-area educator Mary Trometter was a member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) for more than 20 years. She was shocked when her name was used—without her consent—in a political mailer the union sent to her husband asking him to “join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor.”

“I was so appalled by the content of this election letter, I ripped it in two before realizing that I should speak up about my experience,” Mary wrote. “Unions used to protect the little guy, like my great-grandfather. But they’ve become what we used to fight against. Now they’re the big bosses and ordinary union members are the little guy.”

  • Jane was rejected. As a religious objector to union membership in Chester County, Jane Ladley donated her “fair share fee,” otherwise “owed” to the teachers’ union, to charity. But the PSEA rejected her choice of a scholarship fund that was designed for high school seniors who displayed an interest in the U.S. Constitution. “They are telling me which groups I have to choose,” Jane said. “It’s a wrong that needs to be righted.”

Using teachers as political pawns and ignoring their will demonstrates a lack of respect for teachers and the students they teach. Once educators are no longer subject to the whims of unions, they will truly be free to teach.  


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Transparency is the Antidote to Quid Pro Quo Politics

AUGUST 24, 2015  | by BOB DICK

Government Transparency

Did Attorney General Kathleen Kane promise a sweetheart deal to union leaders in exchange for support of her controversial chief of staff? According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, enough evidence exists to warrant an FBI investigation into the matter:

In recent months, agents have questioned at least three people about several issues, including Kane's role in negotiating a new contract with the union representing narcotics agents in her office, according to people familiar with the matter.

The agents sought information about whether Kane suggested to union officials that she would look favorably on their contract if they supported her embattled chief of staff, sources said.

The investigation may end without any charges filed against Kathleen Kane. However, the fact that Kane and other high-ranking government officials—like Gov. Wolf—can promise favors under a veil of secrecy during contract negotiations should greatly concern Pennsylvanians.

Already this year, the Wolf administration ratified and signed a contract worth billions of dollars without public input. Likewise, school boards in eastern and western Pennsylvania have rushed into new deals without any public awareness

This is why collective bargaining transparency is essential.

Making the collective bargaining process transparent will let taxpayers demand better deals for their money. Politicians will no longer be able to negotiate in the shadows of closed-door offices. Instead, voters will have a window to peer into during deal-making.


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Taxes and Taxes and Taxes, Oh My!

AUGUST 24, 2015  | by NATHAN BENEFIELD

A recent NPR article notes that Pennsylvania “gathers less than 1 percent of its total tax receipts from an impact fee” on natural gas production (emphasis mine). Naturally, the Wolf Administration uses this to support its call for higher taxes.

But the article fails to mention the other side of that formula: Pennsylvania gets most of its tax revenue from other tax sources.

Indeed, of the states on NPR's chart:

  • Alaska, Wyoming and Texas have no individual income tax. Gov. Wolf wants to raise Pennsylvania’s.
  • Alaska has no sales tax. Gov. Wolf wants to raise and expand Pennsylvania’s.
  • Texas and Wyoming have no corporate income tax. Pennsylvania has the second-highest tax rate in the industrialized world.
  • Texas, Alaska, Wyoming and North Dakota all have no death tax. Only New York collects more in death tax revenue than Pennsylvania.

Instead of following the lead of other states by lowering our overall tax burden and cutting sales, income, corporate, and inheritance taxes, Gov. Wolf is proposing the largest tax increase in America.

In contrast to NPR's one-sided analysis, our policy memo on the proposed energy tax offers an apples-to-apples comparison of state taxes. Our analysis also notes that Gov. Wolf's proposal would impose the highest effective severance tax rate (17 percent) in the country. The current impact fee represents an effective tax rate of 4.7 percent, according to the Independent Fiscal Office. 


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Audio: Gov. Wolf's Gambling Problem

AUGUST 21, 2015  | by JONATHAN REGINELLA

There are numerous ways Gov. Wolf can balance the budget without raising taxes: reforming the pension system, cutting corporate welfare and selling the liquor business.

Instead, he plans on adding to state debt with pension obligation bonds–essentially borrowing money to gamble in the stock market while hoping for a good return.

CF’s Nate Benefield talks with WAEB's Bobby Gunther about Gov. Wolf’s misguided borrowing plans.

Nate explains how pension obligation bonds have a terrible trackrecord. Even Pittsburgh’s Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto has publicly criticized Gov. Wolf’s plan to use pension obligation bonds, saying his city should be the litmus test that proves pension bonds are not a solution.

Gov. Wolf should listen to his constituents who want long-term solutions, not historic tax increases.

Click here or listen below to hear more.

Bobby Gunther is on WAEB News Radio weekdays from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

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