As part of National Employee Freedom Week, we sat down with two western Pennsylvania teachers who successfully left their teachers’ unions last year. John Cress is a middle school math and special education teacher and Rob Brough is a 20-year history and reading teacher. Both were motivated to opt out after seeing the political nature of their unions’ activities.
Why is an annual educational campaign designed to inform teachers of their right to opt out of full union membership even necessary? Teachers’ unions don’t make such information widely available. Indeed, both Rob and John thought they had to join the union as full members in order to get their first teaching jobs.
Brough says, “The bottom line is: No. I can say with absolute certainty that none of those options were given to me . . . If a person doesn’t know that their rights even exist, how can they exercise those rights freely?”
Cress agrees, saying, “There should be full disclosure on where the dues are going and the educator should be permitted to make the decision by him or herself as to whether or not to continue to contribute to those causes.”
After years of union membership, Brough determined that the teachers’ unions weren’t designed to help improve his effectiveness in the classroom: “I was learning nothing about becoming a better public servant. I was, however, learning about politics. I was learning about organizations that were designed to increase the union’s effectiveness.”
Cress disagreed with his unions’ political stances but was powerless to change them: “It was very frustrating every time one of those [political] emails came because I was thinking, ‘Why do I have to be part of this organization? Why do I have to support these causes just to be a teacher? I should have free will. I should be able to have an open mind, but I was under the impression that I couldn’t.”
Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.
Heather Lister and Joe Connolly are both Pennsylvania educators, and they couldn’t be more different. Heather is a 25-year-old library media specialist and a registered Democrat. Joe is a veteran high school guidance counselor and a proud conservative.
On the surface, the teachers are poles apart, but there is something they agree on: Lister and Connolly both believe that labor union membership should be voluntary.
You might wonder why that’s such a big deal—don’t teachers already have a choice? The short answer is no.
In the 26 states that are not “right to work,” most public school teachers who decide not to join a union must still pay union fees—whether they want union representation or not. That's why Commonwealth Foundation is participating in National Employee Freedom Week (August 10-16), a broad grassroots effort to inform teachers and other unionized workers of their labor rights.
It seems clear that there is widespread agreement—across party lines and ideological barriers—that we must address school seniority rules and tenure reform.
Check out this stunning video from MSNBC's Morning Joe and take note of who is sitting around the table: liberals, conservatives, moderates, and independents. Everyone seems to agree that all children deserve access to the highest quality teachers.
Everyone, that is, except the teacher union leaders—who fight tooth and nail to retain inflexible seniority rules and status quo tenure policies.
As mentioned in the clip, teachers are not interchangeable parts. They should be treated, evaluated, and compensated like any other professionals, which is based on performance. Seniority rules mandate that teachers be placed and furloughed simply according to their years in the system, not how effective they are at instructing students. This results in the best teachers being left out in the cold, while those who are less effective, but longer tenured, are protected.
There is a solution to this problem in the commonwealth. HB 1722, sponsored by Rep. Tim Krieger, would ensure that furlough decisions are based on actual job-performance, as well as increase the benchmark for tenure from three to five years.
This important legislation would dramatically improve the quality of education throughout Pennsylvania.
Good news from the Pittsburgh School District, where the Pennsylvania Department of Education granted three year approval of Pittsburgh’s new teacher evaluation system. This despite the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers’ efforts to undermine and weaken the standards it originally helped craft.
As we've noted before, the evaluation model identifies both successful teachers and those who need to improve. In the 2013-14 school year, 28 teachers were evaluated as unsatisfactory by the new system. A second straight year of unsatisfactory performance could lead to dismissal. The district will provide teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations with extra support in order to develop their skills.
Previously, Pittsburgh teachers were evaluated solely on classroom observation. The new system maintains a strong observation component, but it also accounts for student performance. Accurate, reliable, and meaningful feedback is the only way to ensure that teachers—or any other professionals—have the necessary tools to grow and improve.
Sophisticated teacher evaluation models are an important reform for school districts seeking to retain their best talent and move away from inflexible seniority rules like "Last-in, First-out" (LIFO). In the event of layoffs, LIFO puts up-and-coming teachers at greatest risk—regardless of job performance. And since schools in poorer districts have large numbers of new teachers, LIFO disproportionately affects schools in low-income areas.
If a school is in the unfortunate position of needing to reduce staff, it must be able to make decisions based on the specific needs of its student population. A longer-tenured teacher is not necessarily a more effective teacher, and it is precisely the most effective teachers who should be protected and rewarded—be they young or old.
Thankfully, the approved Pittsburgh evaluation system offers a robust measurement of teachers' classroom performance.
While union leadership continues to repeat the myth that union dues cannot be used for politics, the latest newsletter from the Pennsylvania State Education Assocation again reveals, in small print, that 12 percent of members’ dues will be spent on politics next year.
That should not surprise anyone, given the rest of the magazine is chock full of political ads, endorsements, and calls to action.
This is on the heels of increasing political activism out of the national teachers' unions. In case you missed it, last week the American Federation of Teachers decided to increase their union dues to bolster their political spending.
To bolster the union’s coffers for the legal and political battles to come, the AFT leadership is asking members to support a two-stage dues hike that would add $5.40 a year to their bills this year and another $6.60 in 2015.
Most of the increase would go toward the “militancy/defense fund” and state and national “solidarity funds,” which support litigation, political activism and lobbying.
The $12 increase (over two years), would mean the AFT will collect almost $19 million more each year that can be used on politics. Last year, the AFT spent more than $28 million on political activity and lobbying, while more than half its spending went to the category "other," including gifts to other advocacy organizations.
Their sister organization, the NEA, spent $44.8 million on politics last year, not including their list of gifts to other political organizations. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, the recent NEA conference was full of political debate, while eschewing union transparency.
Delegates debated whether the union's president should write a letter to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder denouncing the NFL team name's "institutional racism." They also discussed a resolution supporting reparations for "the lingering impact of slavery" and "subtle Jim Crow policies and thinking" including "unconscious bias." These items were referred to a private committee for further discussion.
Some business items approved by the delegates did pertain to teaching. Delegates signed off on drawing up a list of books, for students from pre-K to graduate school, "that have LGBTQ and gender non-conforming themes" ($6,500) and a lobbying campaign for legislation that requires "sensitive and respectful discussions of gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation" ($24,140). They also adopted a resolution to promote "clean energy" in curriculums ($10,760).
The attendees voted down some in-house items: a proposal that would require the NEA's board to provide written justification for executive officers' raises, and another that urged the NEA to "bargain in good faith" with its internal union, the Association of Field Service Employees (AFSE), thus exemplifying "the behavior we advocate for in negotiations."
As for Pennsylvania, many teachers disagree with both the PSEA and NEA's spending on politics—and the lousy job the union does telling educators about it. As teacher Steve Calabro noted last month, one obscure notice does not make for notified teachers on such a critical issue.
"How much money is the government owed from teachers who don't take this into account when filing taxes?" Calabro askked. "This information should be a separate mailer that goes out the first week of January, not smothered in the back of a summer issue of a magazine that no one reads."
While labor unions nationwide have been on the defensive for the past few decades—especially in light of pro-worker measures in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana—Pennsylvania remains a bastion of union power, according to a series of articles in the Central Penn Business Journal (CPBJ) on the "State of the Unions."
According to the Business Journal, unions are confident that they are stronger and more united than ever. And if this past budget season tells us anything, it's that unions, particularly the powerful government employee unions like the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 (the state liquor store clerks' union), have wielded their immense political influence to stop Paycheck Protection, stymie pension reform, and sink liquor privatization efforts.
Given the government unions’ power, it’s no surprise to see Pennsylvania ranked fourth in the nation in union membership, trailing only California, New York, and Illinois. However, union membership in the state has been in steady decline, mirroring national trends. At the same time, union membership among those in Public Administration has risen slightly between 2003 and 2013.
One CPBJ editorial (pay wall) pointed out that while the businesses interviewed have often found private-sector unions to be willing partners who have adapted to declining union power and a changing marketplace, the public-sector unions have continued to thwart necessary government reforms.
"Nobody seems to care about the citizens and businesses that foot the bill for preserving the status quo. It's about time they did," the CPBJ editorial concludes. We wholeheartedly agree!
Lawmakers may have agreed on a no-new-taxes budget, but the cost drivers behind this year’s budget shortfall and Pennsylvania’s annual budget crisis remain unchanged. Chief among those cost drivers is the state’s ailing pension system, with our pension plans more than $50 billion in debt and warnings from all three bond rating agencies.
With such a serious fiscal crisis why has nothing been done? The answer lies with public sector union CEOs who have for years denied a pension crisis, supported underfunded pensions for teachers and state workers, and lobbied against any reform.
The PSEA, for example, sent over-the-top emails to teachers saying a new pension reform proposal is “a new attack on YOUR retirement security,” and claiming it unfairly targets women, playing off absurd “war on women” demagoguery. The PSEA also sent mail to retirees claiming falsely that proposed reforms take away their pensions.
In contrast to this misinformation campaign, our pension debt is a triple threat to Pennsylvania’s future and could lead to teacher layoffs, fewer government services, and retiree pension benefit cuts.
Increases in school pension costs are equal to the salary of 33,000 teachers, which means one in three teachers could be laid off. That is the equivalent of a family of four facing a tax increase of $900 annually to just to make up the payments for pension debt.
Pension reform is about protecting state employees, taxpayers, and future teachers and state workers. As long as government unions are permitted to campaign against it using taxpayer resources, all Pennsylvanians will suffer.
Today, the House State Government Committee advanced House Bill 1507 to the floor, taking the first step towards ending the taxpayer collection of government union campaign contributions and political money. We applaud the House State Government Committee’s determination to restore fairness and accountability to a process that harms both taxpayers and public employees.
Thanks to today’s vote, teachers like Keith Williams, who testified before the committee, now have hope that their voices will no longer be co-opted by union executives who abuse taxpayer resources and teachers’ paychecks to advance their own political agendas.
A big thanks to Chairman Daryl Metcalfe and the Committee members who voted 'YEA' on paycheck protection—an important step in order for the legislation to move on for a full House vote.
Please join me in thanking those representatives who stood with the taxpayers and teachers! You can click below for their contact information, or thank them publicly via social media.
|Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chair YEA||Rep. Mark Cohen, chair NAY|
|Rep. Stephen Barrar Absent||Rep. Mary Jo Daley NAY|
|Rep. George Dunbar YEA||Rep. Marty Flynn NAY|
|Rep. Eli Evankovich YEA||Rep. Jordan Harris NAY|
|Rep. Garth Everett YEA||Rep. Daniel McNeill NAY|
|Rep. Matt Gabler YEA||Rep. Daniel Miller NAY|
|Rep. Fred Keller YEA||Rep. Michael O'Brien NAY|
|Rep. Jerry Knowles YEA||Rep. Michael Schlossberg NAY|
|Rep. Timothy Krieger YEA||Rep. Brian Sims NAY|
|Rep. David Maloney YEA||Rep. Greg Vitali NAY|
|Rep. John McGinnis YEA|
|Rep. Brad Roae YEA|
|Rep. Rick Saccone YEA|
|Rep. Justin Simmons YEA|
|Rep. Dan Truitt YEA|
Click here for a listing of links to these members' social media accounts.
Last week we highlighted a California judge who ruled that laws enforcing teacher seniority and tenure were unconstitutional and violated students’ rights to a quality education.
But here in Pennsylvania, public school union leaders still defend these laws. While legislation is moving through the state House—with bipartisan support—to implement the commonsense reform of considering teacher evaluations in furlough decisions, union lobbyists are pulling out all the stops.
The PSEA’s latest lobbying push features the scary headline “Your job security is at risk.” Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has its own lobbying effort, talking about how the bill is “anti-teacher.”
Current seniority and tenure rules hurt younger teachers, regardless of their performance, and undermine the quality of education. Yet union executives continue to cling to the status quo—despite the fact that at a recent hearing, the president of the PSEA admitted he didn’t know how teachers’ themselves felt about the issue.
Indeed, union leaders rarely ask for member input on issues, since they use taxpayer resources to collect their political money rather than collect it directly from members.
Big news out of California, where a state judge struck down that state's teacher seniority and tenure laws. The lawsuit was filed by 9 students who believed that teacher tenure rules and Last-In-First-Out policies hurt good teachers, and thus hindered their ability to get a quality education.
The court agreed!
What do teacher union CEO's have to say about this ruling? They ignore the issue, and instead point to the usual bogeymen with name calling. Here's NEA president Dennis Van Roekel:
This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education.
Pennsylvania has its own opportunity to reform antiquated seniority laws and protect excellent teachers, putting kids first. HB 1722, which would use the new teacher evaluation system rather than seniority only for furloughs and rehiring decisions, passed the House Education committee last week.
Total Records: 137
Who are We?
The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.