The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) took out full-page, color ads in several major state newspapers last week proclaiming Gov. Corbett "closed neighborhood schools" and laid off teachers in Philadelphia through massive education funding cuts. In the western part of the state the ad warns, "Don’t let Allegheny County be the next Philadelphia."
These ads were grossly misleading. State funding for public schools is at an all-time high. The $1 billion in "cuts" was the expiration of temporary federal stimulus money.
So we ran our own ad today correcting the record.
AFT claims Gov. Corbett and state lawmakers "cut $1 billion" in education spending in the state budget. But the real facts about education spending are something else entirely.
The 2013-14 budget spends nearly $10 billion and the proposed 2014-15 budget calls for $10.1 billion for PreK-12 schools—an all-time high, even exceeding when the state budget included federal stimulus funds. As you can see in the chart below, the AFT's claims are simply untrue.
But the worst part of the AFT's misleading campaign is how it was funded—by teachers' dues collected using taxpayer resources. It’s time unions are held accountable for dishonest political ads they run at the expense of educators and taxpayers across the state.
We should stop this practice which gives government unions an unfair political privilege to engage in politics.
A survey of National Education Association (NEA) members, summarized by the Educational Intelligence Agency, reveals most teacher union members never hear from state and national union officials.
While most teachers surveyed said they had met with local union representatives, a majority had no contact with anyone at the state affiliate (like the PSEA) or anyone at the NEA.
More than 60 percent had zero contact with the state affiliate board, more than 70 percent had zero contact with an RA delegate, and more than 80 percent had zero contact with a member of the NEA board of directors.
As a case in point, PSEA President Mike Crossey testified in a December hearing against using teacher evaluations, but did insist on keeping seniority—only in furloughs and rehiring of teachers—even though the seniority system hurts teachers and students. When Rep. Mark Gillen asked Crossey what his members thought, and if he could share a survey from teachers, Crossey said the PSEA hadn’t conducted a survey of its members on the issue.
After all, why would state and national union reps bother talking to rank and file members? They never have to ask their members for money, with school districts collecting dues and political money right from teachers’ paychecks and then sending the money on to the PSEA (and the PSEA sending the money on to the NEA).
This is unfortunate, given as the lion's share of union dues go to support the PSEA and NEA—$498 and $182, respectively last year for full time teachers. The PSEA reported spending $3.8 million on political activities and lobbying with those dues, while the NEA spent $45 million.
This is why paycheck protection—requiring union leaders to actually collect dues and political money from members—would benefit teachers and state workers.
How would you like to know what's in a teachers' contract before your school district passes it—and locks in spending—for four years? And how would you like to track how all public schools spend money once they receive it?
Thanks to two new bills that passed the Pennsylvania State House last week, state taxpayers may soon be able to do both.
HB 1741, sponsored by Rep. Fred Keller (R-Snyder, Union), requires school districts to post a new contract 48 hours before a school board votes on it, and publicize it in a local newspaper. The contract has to remain public for 30 days after the voting meeting.
HB 1411 creates SchoolWATCH, an online database of the Pennsylvania Department of Education to record all flows of revenue and spending to school districts, vo-techs, charter and cyber charter schools. This includes grants, loans, debt servicing and construction, though it does not includes individual employee salaries (except for administrators) in the initially phase. The database will also post all current union contracts.
SchoolWATCH, sponsored by Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) requires all school districts to post their budgets within a year of the bill's passage.
The bills are a win for taxpayers, who have seen both public education spending and property taxes climb steadily in the last 15 years. Better transparency will also ultimately help Pennsylvania students, who deserve schools that prioritize learning.
Yesterday, we reported that the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers is trying to lower evaluation standards for teachers it had previously helped craft.
Under Pittsburgh's new system, which goes into effect next year, the district found about 15 percent of its teachers were rated "needs improvement" or "failing." About 85 percent are doing well in the classroom.
However, Pennsylvania law isn't allowing Pittsburgh to act on what they know about effective teachers. After Pittsburgh was forced to furlough teachers according to seniority, like school districts across the commonwealth, it discovered 16 teachers rated "distinguished"—the top rating—were let go. Twelve of those top teachers eventually returned; four did not.
At the same time, 17 teachers rated "failing" were also furloughed, but seniority rules meant 11 of them got to keep their jobs, nudging out the district's sorely needed "distinguished" teachers.
Seniority rules in the Public School Code mean teachers get placed and furloughed simply according to how long they've been in the system, not how well they teach students.
Pittsburgh's evaluation system, in short, is highlighting just how outdated Pennsylvania's tenure system is—and how it's hurting both students and good teachers. It's a lesson worth learning as state lawmakers attempt to reform seniority so we can keep the best teachers in our classrooms.
Four years ago, Pittsburgh School District, the second-largest in Pennsylvania, embarked on an innovative effort to evaluate teachers. Administrators and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (PFT) collaborated to create a new, more detailed system that would inform parents and teachers about how well educators are teaching children.
It was the first of its kind, going beyond the two-grade system then used across the state, in which over 99 percent of teachers were rated satisfactory (and a minor sliver unsatisfactory). The new four-tier system rates teachers as distinguished, proficient, needs improvement, and failing.
This year, for the first time, teachers got detailed feedback on how they were doing. About 9 percent were rated "failing," and another 6 percent were rated "needs improvement." The district has lined up several ways to help these teachers improve, similar to the support Washington, D.C., public schools provided its struggling teachers.
There's just one problem: The teachers' union doesn't want to play any more.
Pittsburgh's evaluation system becomes official next year, but PFT—which helped devise the new standards—is fighting tooth and nail to lower them. In a jaw-dropping reversal, the union is arguing that Act 82, which introduced a new, statewide teacher evaluation system last year, has more lenient standards compared to Pittsburgh.
In other words, PFT says Pittsburgh grades teachers too hard.
It's not difficult to see who will suffer from the PFT's antics: Pittsburgh students, 70 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged and desperately need the lifeline that a good education—provided by good teachers—will offer. In testimony to the House Education Committee last week, Pittsburgh Superintendent Linda Lane cited what the school district has learned about teaching:
The difference between our highest performing teachers and our lowest performers is significant, and has a lasting impact on the lives of children in Pittsburgh. We now know that our most effective teachers 'are producing gains in student achievement that are large enough that, if accumulated over several years without decay, could erase achievement gaps between black students and white students, or between Pittsburgh students and statewide averages.'
Meanwhile, the PFT has joined forces with the national American Federation of Teachers to dismantle Pittsburgh's successful teacher evaluation system, bullying Superintendent Lane. The AFT even plowed $1.2 million into a campaign to "reclaim the promise" of public education. Pity they don't want to keep their own promise to Pittsburgh students and their families.
In the last year, the Pennsylvania State Education Association poured $3.8 million of its members' dues into "political activities and lobbying," according to its 2013 financial disclosure report. That's an increase of 46 percent in the last five years.
Bear in mind this spending comes from teachers' union dues, which school districts collect automatically from payroll—just like a tax. In effect, taxpayers are collecting money on behalf of a political organization, a privilege no other private group enjoys. In addition, ordinary teachers have no say in how their union leaders spend their dues.
Below is a partial breakdown of how the PSEA spent that $3.8 million on politics:
- $2.3 million to union employees for political and lobbying activities.
- $100,000 to national Progressive group America Votes.
- $110,009 to an employment service, which included expenses labeled as “member political consulting.”
- $70,875 to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, largely for the CLEAR Coalition, which comprises several government labor unions working to affect Pennsylvania state budget spending.
- $64,825 for meetings and hotel lodging.
- $64,685 for post-election and Pennsylvania budget surveys.
- $40,561 to run phone banks and kiosk lines.
- $22,524 on pledge forms, donation envelopes and promotional items for PACE, the union's political action committee.
- $22,000 to pollster Terry Madonna for research.
- $5,000 to the Education Policy and Leadership Center for “school funding campaign.”
In addition, the National Education Association gave a whopping $650,000 this year to Pennsylvanians for Accountability, a mysterious advocacy group that cropped up running prime-time television ads accusing Gov. Tom Corbett of spending billions in corporate tax breaks. Pennsylvania teachers and educators across the country were forced to fund the ads through their union dues.
When both taxpayers and teachers are forced to foot the bill for such politics, it's high time we end the power cycle of automatic dues deductions.
Remember the shadowy group, Pennsylvanians for Accountability, which ran "shell game" prime time attack ads on Gov. Tom Corbett for "bankrolling big tax cuts for his corporate backers"? The group also ran mailers targeting several House Republicans.
There was little to identify the origins of the group, which materialized out of nowhere in the spring and had a barely-occupied office in Pittsburgh. But it soon surfaced that labor unions were behind the group's efforts against the governor and other Republican legislators.
Now it turns out the National Education Association gave a whopping $650,000 to Pennsylvanians for Accountability this year, according to its just-filed annual financial report to the U.S. Department of Labor. This report, called the LM-2, details how several government unions spend their own members' dues. A portion of all dues that teachers pay to the Pennsylvania State Education Association goes to the National Education Association.
Previously it was revealed that the SEIU—which represents most government social workers—gave $180,000 to Pennsylvanians for Accountability.
Anyone who believes teachers' and state workers' union dues can't be used for political purposes, take note.
One teacher called it "a kick in the teeth." Another used the word "extortion." What are these teachers talking about? The practice in Pennsylvania of teachers' union dues being used for politics, without their permission, and of being forced to pay the union just to keep their jobs—all of which is reinforced by the practice of automatic dues deduction.
Teachers across Pennsylvania are fed up with this unfair system. Educator Julie Raab calls the current relationship between teachers and their unions "parasitic."
Robin Fought talks about her shock at discovering the collection arrangement unions have with government: "To my surprise, our school district resources as well as my tax money are being used to deduct not only union dues, but political action committee funds for PSEA-PACE that go to candidates that I do not support."
John Cress notes: "I don't think anybody should have to contribute to any type of political interest group as a condition of their employment."
Joe Connolly asks: "Why is the baseline assumption that all public school employees should join the union or be forced to do so through tactics such as “fair share” agreements? What if the baseline assumption was that public school employees were capable of making an informed choice on their own?"
Other Pennsylvania public teachers are speaking out against forced unionism. Read more of their views at Free to Teach.
Ellwood City public school teacher John Cress is speaking up against the forced political speech he had to pay for via his union dues to the Pennsylvania State Education Association: "I don't think anybody should have to contribute to any type of political interest group as a condition of their employment."
Retired teacher Bill Frye agrees, calling the system of school districts and other government entities collecting union dues and political action committee money for a private organization "grossly unfair."
Watch clips from their recent appearance on Pittsburgh's news issues program, NightTalk.
*Video courtesy of PCNC/NightTalk
*Video courtesy of PCNC/NightTalk
Visit FreetoTeach.org to read more stories from teachers who are fed up with Pennsylvania’s unfair system.
Last week we highlighted a number of election-related ads the Pennsylvania State Education Association paid for using its members' dues money—without their permission or knowledge. The state's largest teachers union also funnels money to a number of political issue campaigns, again spending educator dues to advocate for issue positions their own members may disagree with, but pay for anyway.
Here are a few examples from the PSEA's magazine, Voice:
Funding 'cuts': The PSEA blames Gov. Tom Corbett for $1 billion in education cuts, and encourages educators to do the same. One 2012 four-page solicitation to donate to the union's political action committee, PACE, shows a cartoon depicting the governor throwing fuel on a funding crisis fire. Another campaign highlighting funding cuts encourages educators to go "all in" for public education by donating to PACE and electing the right candidates.
The "cuts," however, are really the loss of federal stimulus dollars which flowed into the state over two years starting in 2009. Then-Gov. Ed Rendell reduced the state portion of K-12 funding with that influx. Once the one-time money went away, Gov. Tom Corbett increased state funding for 2013-14 and raised it about $10 billion, the highest level ever. Funding per student in the last 15 years has also increased 33 percent after adjusting for inflation.
Pension crisis denial: While conjuring a crisis in education funding, the PSEA has ignored the fact that the state is facing a massive $29 billion shortfall in its school employee pension system, the result of unsustainable increases in pension benefits from over a decade ago. Unless comprehensive reform is enacted, the burden will result in higher property taxes and pension costs crowding out other government spending, including education. But the PSEA only tells educators that their pension is a promise, and "don't let Governor Corbett break it" (while asking for more PACE donations).
Ridiculing Gov. Corbett: A mock history chapter from the May 2013 magazine has lines such as "funding cuts crush schools" and "can PSEA members help to elect a new governor in 2014?" Another insert calls Corbett's education budget a "shameful freefall." And in July, a four-page cartoon and PACE solicitation depicted Corbett as a lounge singer with a lousy hits like "C'Mon, Baby, Cut My Pension." The ad prompted Pennsylvania teacher Steve Calabro to ask,
If a teacher found a mean-spirited caricature of a public official drawn by a student, would they A) applaud and help the student put the official down, B) force the rest of the class to pay money to help make more offensive drawings, or C) try to educate the student as to why being disrespectful is not the best course of action in life? One of these sounds like a teacher, the other two are PSEA.
Well said, Steve. Other teachers are asking why their union dues have to fund such political activities, which are surprisingly subsidized by taxpayers—a practice that must end.
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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.