In 2015, several states took action to improve the functionality of their public charter school laws. Unfortunately for Pennsylvania’s 130,000 charter students—as well as the thousands of students on currently on charter waitlists—progress in the commonwealth remained elusive.
According to an analysis by The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Pennsylvania’s charters are losing ground to schools other states. The 2015 report compares Pennsylvania law to the National Alliance’s model legislation. Pennsylvania’s national ranking slipped from 25th to 27th. Lawmakers can do more to ensure healthy growth in the charter sector, especially given that charters were among those hardest hit by the governor’s refusal to sign a responsible state budget until late December.
Findings from the National Alliance suggest that Pennsylvania’s charter laws, despite meeting standards in some categories, need improvement in several critical areas. The most notable failings were related to enrollment caps, authorizer accountability, and fair funding. The commonwealth also has room to grow in terms of access to capital funding and facilities. On the other hand, Pennsylvania received high marks for its transparent application and review processes, as well as for exemptions from local school district collective bargaining units.
What better way to celebrate National School Choice Week (NSCW)—which kicks off today—than to take action strengthening Pennsylvania’s charter school law? NSCW is the country’s largest annual celebration of educational opportunity. A more robust charter sector will empower families to chose from a larger group of high-quality schooling options.
How would you feel if your employer took funds meant for your health insurance and spent them on partisan politics? Sadly, this is a reality for thousands of teachers in Philadelphia.
Evan Grossman of Watchdog.org has the story:
Every year, the [School District of Philadelphia] is bound by its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to pay more than $69 million for employee health care benefits.
The payments come in increments of $167.41 per teacher every two weeks during the school year, adding up to some $4,352 annually for each of the PFT’s 16,000 members. Those funds come from a pool of state and local taxes. The PFT’s Health and Welfare Fund receives a chunk of that money, which is earmarked for supplemental benefits, such as dental and vision, along with other programs like life insurance and its annual educational conference, which will be held in March 2016.
The Watchdog investigation found that more than $6 million from that fund was loaned, interest-free, to the union’s bleeding building fund, where it appears to have been spent on building maintenance and upgrades. According to Internal Revenue Service filings completed by the union, that money may never be paid back.
Part of the cash, loaned in five separate installments, was also used to subsidize the rent of the Jewish Labor Committee.
While teachers are working hard in the classroom, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) is secretly draining their insurance fund to subsidize politics and facilities upgrades.
Philadelphia is one of only two school districts in the state where teachers enjoy no-cost health insurance—generous benefits unheard of in the private sector. When Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission attempted to restore fiscal sanity to the money-bleeding district by asking for modest health cost sharing, the union responded with a lawsuit. The union’s refusal to accept even minor health care concessions is more remarkable given that millions of dollars from the Health and Welfare Fund are not even spent on health insurance.
As long as the Health and Welfare Fund serves as a slush fund for political activity, union leaders will fight tooth and nail to retain their unique taxpayer-funded health care privileges.
Of course, this isn’t the first time PFT leadership has used students and teachers as pawns in a larger political game. And it likely won’t be last—at least until government unions are more transparent in their operations and more accountable to their membership.
As 1980s movie buffs know, today—Oct 21, 2015—is the day Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled forward in time in the Back to the Future films. Back to the Future predicted a few things right, and a few things wrong about life in 2015.
But one thing Marty and Doc never expected to see 30 years later is Jerry Jordan—head of the Philadelphia teachers’ union—still working as a ghost teacher. Jordan has been on release time—employed as a “teacher” with the Philadelphia school district, but in reality working for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—since 1985.
That’s the same year Marty and Doc left from the present—and in the real world, the same year Back to the Future was the number one movie in America.
Yesterday, Representatives Kristin Phillips Hill and Jim Christiana introduced legislation that would put an end to ghost teachers. House Bill 1649 prohibits employees on public school payroll from leaving the classroom to work full-time for unions. Currently, in school districts like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, dozen of employees working for the union remain on school district payrolls (often with the union reimbursing for salaries).
For example, in Philadelphia, due to union contracts, up to 63 district employees can work full-time for the union. In Pittsburgh, up to 16 district employees can work full-time for the union.
These ghost teachers continue to accrue seniority and pension benefits, despite being out of the classroom for many years—and in some cases, like Jerry Jordan, for decades.
This practice in Philadelphia is currently the subject of a lawsuit. You can read more about that case from our friends at the Fairness Center.
For better or worse, we don't have flying cars or self-adjusting clothes in 2015. But we can fix the archaic system of union release time and send ghost teachers "Back to the Future"...or rather, back to the classroom.
Teacher unions are taking money from teachers to fund political causes they do not support. Through Free to Teach, teachers like James Williams and Linda Misja are speaking out and shining a light on shady union practices.
CF’s Brittney Parker was on the Gary Sutton Show to talk about Free to Teach and how it's helping teachers who have fought against being forced to fund causes that conflict with their morals.
Brittney explains, “a lot of teachers feeling like their beliefs are being violated because they are being forced to pay this money to keep their job”.
The Teacher’s Bill of Rights is one of Free to Teach's resources that outlines personal freedoms all teachers should enjoy, including the right to a protected paycheck.
Click here or listen below to learn more about Free to Teach and the Teacher's Bill of Rights.
The Gary Sutton Show airs daily on WSBA 910AM in the York area.
Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.
The first month of a new school year is an exciting—but stressful—time for school teachers. This is particularly true for young, newly-hired teachers who must quickly acclimate to their students, colleagues, and a professional environment.
In Pennsylvania, however, rookie teachers face an additional burden. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal explains how the commonwealth’s hemorrhaging pension system stacks the deck against young teachers:
The pension plans…are structured to favor the small minority who teach in a single system for a working lifetime, at the expense of the vast majority who leave the system much earlier in their careers.
Our state’s backloaded defined benefit pension system is a bad deal for younger teachers—not to mention workers who begin their career late or shift to another job. Fewer than 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s teachers will remain in the school system long enough to even become vested in their pension.
The WSJ article continues:
Under current plan structures, teachers accrue almost no retirement wealth in their first several years—then accrue substantially more as they near retirement age. The hypothetical Philadelphia teacher earns an average of about $1,326 in retirement compensation (in present-value terms) during each of her first 25 years of employment, followed by an average of about $37,593 during each of her last 10 years.
The Pennsylvania Public School Retirement System’s actuaries expect that about 80% of teachers will leave the system before their pension benefit is worth a single dollar. And according to a report last year from Bellwether Education Partners, more than half of all public-school teachers nationally will exit their school systems before their pensions vest.
Pennsylvania’s young public school teachers deserve better. They deserve a retirement account that is portable, and they deserve to own their retirement savings. Helping young teachers is yet another reason for Gov. Wolf to re-consider his veto of meaningful pension reform.
Although Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent actions have thrown Chester Upland School District into a state of turmoil, local unions in the district are rising above politics and putting students first. Teachers and support staff in Chester Upland School District agreed to work without pay so their students can return to school on time.
They should be commended for doing so.
The Delaware County Daily Times has the full story:
More than 300 Chester Upland School District faculty members and support staff voted Thursday to work without pay if necessary after learning from Superintendent Gregory Shannon during their first day back at school that there are insufficient funds to meet the district’s first payroll of the school year.
Chester Upland Education Association President Michele Paulick said that at a morning convocation Shannon read a letter from Francis Barnes, the state-appointed receiver for the school district which has been in financial flux for 25 years, that the district currently does not have the funds to make payroll for Sept. 9. Classes are scheduled to begin Sept. 2.
“We knew that the district was in financial straits but we didn’t know it was so immediate so, yes, we were very shocked,” said Paulick Thursday evening.
Following the announcement from the superintendent, the approximately 200 teachers represented by the Chester Upland Education Association and more than 120 secretaries, teaching assistants, licensed practical nurses and other staff represented by the Chester Upland Education Support Personnel Association passed a joint resolution stating their members “will work as long as they are individually able, even with delayed compensation, and even with the failure of the school district to meet its payroll obligations, in order to continue to serve the students who learn in the Chester Upland School District.”
Interestingly, Democrats in the Pennsylvania State House—who are also facing the possibility of foregoing monthly paychecks—are taking a different approach. PennLive reports:
Rep. Frank Dermody asked the Pennsylvania Treasury for "a loan, from whatever source you deem appropriate and in such amount as may be necessary, to be used during the balance of the current budget impasse to help us fulfill our obligation to pay timely salaries and related costs."
Perhaps House Democrats should take note of what is happening in Chester Upland—and follow suit.
Teachers across Pennsylvania are being forced to contribute their hard-earned dollars to partisan politics and organizations they do not agree with.
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.
The Dom Giordano Show airs every weekday from 9 am – 12 pm.
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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.
The consequences of Gov. Tom Wolf’s lock-step fealty to public sector union interests are being felt across the state and particularly in York City—where one of Wolf’s first major decisions as governor is generating renewed skepticism among those seeking improvement for the failing school district.
In March, the Wolf administration forced out York City recovery officer David Meckley and withdrew the state’s petition to introduce transformative change to a school system known for financial distress, abysmal academic performance, and astounding rates of violence. Meckley, who sought to implement a charter school model, realized Wolf was wedded to the status quo and would not accept a solution that prioritized students and families over government unions.
What has been happening in York City since the new recovery officer assumed her position?
If a recent editorial from the York Daily Record is any indication, not much. Saylor hired an outside firm to study the school district and provide recommendations. Highlights from the report include the following:
- Teacher attendance dropped to 88 percent in 2014-15 (which is actually lower than student attendance, according to Saylor).
- Barely half of district personnel believe the quality of education delivered by the district is good or excellent. Four percent of teachers believe that education quality is excellent.
- 86 percent of school and central office personnel report that the district does not reward or retain excellent staff.
- 75 percent of school staff do not believe individual schools have sufficient decision making authority over their budgets.
The report also noted that York City’s per pupil funding is on par with the state average. Accordingly, the district may need to “revisit its spending strategy to ensure practices are centered on student learning needs.” However, in June, the teacher’s union voted to accept a new collective bargaining contract that increases pay over the next two years.
And just this week, York City announced it has hired a new “information specialist’’ to create “positive publicity with the outside community.” Editors at the Daily Record describe the hire as unnecessary and an unwise use of limited resources:
Ms. Saylor and other district officials ought to be able to speak for themselves to the media and the community. And they certainly ought to be able to perform effective internal communications—or perhaps they shouldn't be in their current positions.
While he may not be involved the district’s day to day operations, the governor’s fingerprints are all over the situation in York City. The decision to force out Meckley—and, in so doing, jettison meaningful education reform—will have lasting repercussions for families who deserve better than a ten year plan and an information specialist.
Political mailers supporting candidates are par for the course during elections—unless those mailers are sent by government unions and funded with members’ dues. Then, they’re illegal.
But that didn’t stop the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) from sending them—or the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board from punting on its authority to enforce the law.
Last fall, Assistant Professor and PSEA member Mary Trometter opened a letter from the PSEA addressed to her husband, asking him to “join Mary in voting for Tom Wolf for Governor on November 4.”
Appalled not only at the partisan mailer but that her name was used—without her permission—to endorse Wolf, Mary decided to hold the union accountable. She and The Fairness Center filed a charge with the PLRB. Recently, though, the PLRB announced its function was not to enforce the law and sent the case to Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office for enforcement.
The question isn’t whether PSEA used members’ dues for politicking—they admitted to this. The question is whether those charged with enforcing the law will turn a blind eye and continue to let the union exploit members for political gain.
Mary plans to appeal the PLRB’s decision and is also calling on AG Kane to enforce the law.
Legislation introduced in the House and Senate would also protect teachers like Mary from being used as ATMs to fund union campaigning. “Mary’s Law,” also known as paycheck protection, would require union leaders to go directly to members to collect money for politicking, instead of relying on taxpayer-funded collections to advance the union’s political agenda.
It’s indefensible that the PSEA thinks it can take Mary’s dues money and hijack her name for political gain.
You can stand with Mary by urging your lawmakers to support Mary’s Law.
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