CF’s work in education focuses on promoting opportunity and improving children’s lives though incentive-based reforms. Instead of repeating the failed attempts to reform education through new rules or additional funding, such reforms use competition to improve education. Incentive-based reforms include providing choice within the public school system through charter schools and cyber schools, providing families with private school options through vouchers or tax credit-funded scholarships, and measuring and rewarding success in education for both schools and teachers. Only when parents are able to choose the best school for their child, have an abundance of educational choices and ample information, and schools are forced to compete for students will we provide the best education to Pennsylvania’s youth.
Did you know teachers’ unions can force many teachers in Pennsylvania to pay dues or a “fair share fee” that’s taken directly out of teachers’ paychecks? What’s more, this withholding of fair share fees, union dues, and even union political contributions is done at taxpayers’ expense, and the teachers have no choice.
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.
An amusing opinion article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes aim at pending legislation that would protect high-performing teachers and change incentives in persistently failing schools. Authors Adam Schott and Kate Shaw have various misleading things to say about both HB 805 and SB 6, but this sentence sums it up:
An increasing number of state policy proposals…[treat] teachers as an interchangeable commodity, rather than highly skilled professionals.
What a peculiar claim about legislation that clearly respects the art of teaching and treats teachers as individuals.
HB 805 stipulates that, in the unfortunate event of furloughs, teachers be retained by virtue of job performance, not merely their years of service in the classroom (seniority). Under HB 805, teachers are evaluated based on the state’s new evaluation system, which currently rates 98.2 percent of teachers as distinguished or proficient. HB 805 would protect a teacher rated “distinguished” in favor of a teacher rated “failing.”
Only 15 percent of the evaluation system is based on test scores from each teacher’s classroom, so crocodile tears about an overreliance on “high-stakes testing” ring hollow. Reasonable people can debate the components of Pennsylvania’s evaluation system—which was endorsed by the state’s largest teachers' union—but teacher quality is closely connected with student learning, and measures of teacher effectiveness are quite reliable.
Above all else, it takes real chutzpah to claim that retaining teachers based on actual job performance treats them as “interchangeable commodities.”
The argument from Schott and Shaw boils down to: “Teachers are much more than widgets, so let’s treat them as widgets.” It is, ironically, opponents of seniority reform who view teachers as interchangeable commodities that cannot be evaluated like other professionals.
Over the weekend, Adam Brandolph of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review penned an excellent story on James Williams, a Mercer County science teacher standing up for his rights against the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA).
Williams was long displeased with how the union spent his dues, but he only recently decided to resign his membership. The final straw was learning about the landmark lawsuit filed by Jane Ladley and Chris Meier, who sued Pennsylvania’s largest teachers’ union for violating their basic rights as religious objectors. (Read more about the lawsuit here, here, and here.)
Upon learning about the Ladley/Meier case, Williams took the necessary steps to leave the union and is planning to become a religious objector himself.
The entire Tribune-Review story is worth your time, but here’s a significant section:
[Williams] left his district's union this year when he learned about a lawsuit filed by two Pennsylvania teachers who, like he does, oppose the liberal causes and political candidates on which the Pennsylvania State Education Association spent money.
A 1988 state law allows teachers' unions to require those who opt out of the union to pay a “fair share” payment in lieu of membership dues to compensate the union for the collective bargaining benefit the non-member receives. If someone opts out based on religious grounds, the money is donated to a nonreligious charity agreed upon by both sides.
The teachers sued the PSEA in September when the union refused to remit their money to charities they chose.
“I had been thinking about it for a while but I pulled the trigger when I saw that lawsuit,” Williams said. “The union has an agenda, which I vehemently oppose. They've consistently not done what I think they should be doing.”
Williams joins Jane Ladley, Chris Meier, Linda Misja, and a growing chorus of Pennsylvania teachers who refuse to accept the PSEA's mistreatment. Fortunately, Rep. John Lawrence has moved to correct this injustice. His legislation, HB 267, ensures religious objectors can donate their “fair share fee” to a non-religious organization of their choosing—without interference from a union.
America Works USA, an affiliate of the union-funded Democratic Governors Association, recently launched an ad campaign in support of Gov. Wolf’s effort to raise taxes on middle- and low-income people.
The group, bolstered by a war chest of at least $500,000, took to the airwaves with radio and TV ads slamming the Republican budget and touting Gov. Wolf’s budget as a practical alternative. Regrettably, the ads are chock-full of misinformation. Although the ads aren’t very long, we identified seven erroneous claims, each of which are corrected below.
Claim #1: The Republicans’ budget lets oil and gas drillers “of the hook.”
Reality: According to America Works, Republicans let the natural gas industry of the hook because they refused to impose higher taxes on the industry. Never mind gas drillers already pay taxes applicable to every other Pennsylvania industry ($318 million in taxes since 2009). They also pay an Impact Fee, which generated more than $800 million in revenue since 2011. According to the Independent Fiscal Office, the 2015 Impact Fee is equivalent to a 4.7 percent effective tax rate, placing drillers firmly on the hook.
Claim #2: The Republican budget proposal fails to fund education.
Reality: Putting aside the notion that more education spending produces better academic achievement (there’s no correlation), the Republican budget includes $370 million dollars in additional spending on K-12 education. The budget vetoed by Gov. Wolf would have increased support of public schools to more than $10.4 billion—a new record high—for the 2015-2016 budget year.
Claim #3: The budget deepens the deficit.
Reality: Baked into the “deficit” number is projected increases in government spending. A real deficit is when government spending exceeds tax revenue. There’s no reason why lawmakers can’t slow the growth of spending and reform the cost drivers in the budget to ensure it’s balanced for next year. But if lawmakers must choose between prioritizing all spending and even use one-time revenues or raising taxes, the first option is preferable.
Claim #4: Gov. Wolf is fighting for a middle-class budget that lowers property taxes.
Reality: The governor’s budget raises taxes on Pennsylvanians of all income levels, according to the Independent Fiscal Office. The governor’s promise of property tax relief only provides 30 cents of relief for every dollar in new taxes—with a net increase of $1,400 per family of four—while simply shifting the tax burden and failing to address ballooning local pension payments driving up property taxes.
Claim #5: The governor makes oil and gas companies pay up to fund schools.
Reality: None of the proposed severance tax revenue is dedicated for education spending—though much of it is earmarked for other projects, including corporate welfare for alternative energy companies.
And according to the governor’s own estimates, his income tax and sales tax increases will cost taxpayers several times more than his severance tax. His proposal collects more funding from taxing health care services and day care than from taxing natural gas.
Claim #6: Pennsylvania ranks 44th in state support for education.
Reality: Pennsylvania ranks near the national average in state funding per student. Overall, Pennsylvania ranks 10th in total funding per student—at $15,000, which is nearly $3,000 above the national average. Moreover, total school district spending reached an all-time high in 2013-14, at $26.1 billion. State aid to school districts is also at a record high.
Claim #7: Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state that doesn’t charge oil and gas drillers an extraction tax.
Reality: Pennsylvania has an extraction tax. It’s call an Impact Fee. Additionally, Pennsylvania has one of the highest overall tax burdens of all the oil- and natural gas-producing states. Other states, like Texas and Wyoming, do not have any personal or corporate income tax. Alaska uses its severance tax to give rebates to residents. Any apples-to-apples comparison must consider the total tax burden.
This is what desperation looks like.
Gov. Tom Wolf recently visited Downingtown Area School District and claimed the no-tax-increase budget he recently vetoed "includes only $8 million for education—that’s less than 3 cents, per child, per day."
Where to begin? To start, let’s clarify that the Republican budget spends more than $10.4 billion—that’s billion, with a B—in support of public schools. Gov. Wolf’s $8 million figure is misleading because it refers only to the increase over the previous fiscal year.
The $8 million figure also happens to be false. The budget Wolf vetoed includes $100 million in new Basic Education spending, $20 million in new Special Education spending, $30 million in new early education spending, $50 million in new higher education spending, and $573 million more for school pensions. Sure, these totals are less than Gov. Wolf requested in his March budget proposal—a spending and tax package that was voted down 0-193—but the Republican plan spends money the state can actually afford.
As for the "3 cents, per child, per day" remark? It’s a cute talking point from a governor who, as PennLive recently described him, acts "less like a chief executive and more like a perpetual candidate."
But it tell us nothing. If, for example, we applied the same math to the mythical "billion dollar education cut" often decried by the governor, it would amount to a reduction of 3 dollars, per child, per day. Keep in mind, too, that this "cut" is a complete fabrication.
Over the past week, we've learned the Wolf administration is fixated on tax increases, adept at parroting union talking points, and prone to dividing by large denominators. The time has come to retire from campaign mode and face reality.
At the end of last month, Gov. Wolf vetoed the Republicans’ budget, criticizing it for failing to meet his lofty goals of closing the structural deficit, increasing education funding through higher energy taxes, and providing property tax relief to homeowners. Those goals come with hefty price, primarily more taxes for Pennsylvanians at all income levels.
Here’s why: If we concede (we shouldn’t) the severance tax won’t hurt people in low and middle income households, it still won’t raise enough revenue to pay for the governor’s education proposals, let alone his plan to reduce property taxes or close the deficit. To raise enough revenue for all three priorities, he needs broad-based tax increases, which Republicans have ruled out.
Right now, there has not been any better ideas presented to us than increasing the personal income tax, increasing the sales tax, while providing the property tax relief that was not included in their budget
The governor has drawn a line in the sand: Either tax low and middle income families or Pennsylvania continues to operate without a budget. His position is puzzling considering he campaigned on protecting low and middle income people from tax hikes.
Not only is Gov. Wolf breaking one of his core campaign promises, but his position won’t fix what he sees as some of the state’s biggest problems:
The structural deficit: His own budget plan—and the gigantic tax increase accompanying it—won’t eliminate the structural deficit. According to the Wolf Administration’s own calculations, by 2016-2017, the state would face a $318 million deficit under his plan.
Severance tax/education funding: The governor wants to impose a severance tax on the natural gas industry. He’s too late. Pennsylvania already has a severance tax, but it’s described as an impact fee. And according to the Independent Fiscal Office, it’s the equivalent of an effective 4.7 percent tax rate on production. The revenue raised from the tax rate is just one of the many taxes the natural gas industry pays.
Yet the governor continues push for an even higher severance tax to "restore education funding cuts of the last four years." There are two problems with this narrative. One, education spending is at its highest level ever. Two, there is no link between higher levels of education spending and academic achievement.
Property tax relief: Providing property tax relief through tax shifting treats the symptom instead of the disease. Property taxes are on the rise because education spending is ballooning. If the state shifts the tax burden, but doesn’t control education spending, taxpayers will continue to take a hit, just in a different pocket.
Gov. Wolf can break the budget impasse and provide Pennsylvanians the “fresh start” he promised during the campaign, but he’ll need to abandon his fixation on the stale policies of the past.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s veto pen may be running out of ink.
In the span of one week, Pennsylvania’s “different kind of governor” vetoed a no-tax-hike budget, liquor privatization, the school code and the fiscal code. He is currently debating whether or not to veto pension reform, as well. But that’s not an exhaustive list.
By vetoing the budget bill, Gov. Wolf turned down a $100 million increase for Basic Education, a $20 million increase for Special Education, a $30 million increase for early education, and $50 million more for higher education. He even vetoed the implementation of a new, bipartisan school funding formula—particularly curious since the formula, which would distribute funds based on student need, has been universally applauded.
At every turn, Gov. Wolf has embraced and perpetuated the myth that Pennsylvania schools are underfunded and suffering from a phony “billion dollar cut.” The administration conveniently ignores the fact that Pennsylvania spending per student ranks 10th in the country, and total school spending is at an all-time high. Seemingly nothing can deter Gov. Wolf on his quest to raise taxes—in the form of income, sales, and severance taxes—on families and small businesses.
Rather than seek common ground or areas of compromise, the governor insists on a budget—his own—that was voted down 0-193.
Thankfully for working families who would be burdened by Wolf’s tax increase, even 4 billion vetoes cannot enact $4 billion in new taxes.
My letter to the editor in the Pocono Record tackles some of the myths about educations spending and Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed tax increase—and why, after the House of Represented rejected his plan by a 0-193 vote, he needs to move on.
Your editorial suggests state lawmakers should "make funding education a top budget priority." Done. Mission accomplished.
School district funding reached a record high last year at $26.1 billion, according to financial reports. That is a $1 billion increase from 2010-11. State revenue is also nearly $1 billion higher than four years ago.
Amazingly, school districts added $100 million to their reserve funds, and now have $4.1 billion sitting around. Moreover, Pennsylvania ranks in the top 10 states in funding per student, spending $3,000 more than the national average.
In contrast to his rhetoric, Gov. Wolf's proposed cradle-to-the-grave tax increase harms poor and middle-class families. His 16 percent sales tax and 20 percent income tax increases will be borne by all taxpayers. His highest-in-the-nation severance tax would drive up energy costs for households, including those with little income.
And his plan to tax everything from diapers and day care, college textbooks and school fees, to nursing homes and funerals, would cost some families thousands of dollars per year. Even with the promise of "property tax relief" in the future, the Independent Fiscal Office finds that every income group will pay more in taxes under the Wolf plan.
The state House of Representatives already held a vote on Gov. Wolf’s tax proposal. It received exactly zero votes, even from Democrats.
The reality is, higher taxes will hurt working families and public schools need reform, not more taxpayer dollars. It’s time to abandon Gov. Wolf’s ill-advised tax plan and pass solutions that help.
Our latest chart, below, shows state funding for public schools through the years, including the $10.4 billion in the budget Gov. Wolf just vetoed.
Seniority-based teacher furloughs may soon become a relic of the past for Pennsylvania public schools.
On Tuesday evening, the state House approved Rep. Stephen Bloom’s HB 805—the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act. The legislation ensures teachers are retained based on their effectiveness, not merely their seniority, in the unfortunate event of furloughs. Teacher quality is measured based on a statewide evaluation system—one endorsed by the teachers’ unions—that currently rates 98.2 percent of teachers as satisfactory.
HB 805 protects Pennsylvania’s “proficient” and “distinguished” teachers from being furloughed in favor of a teacher with more seniority who is rated “needs improvement” or “failing.” In the event two teachers have the same rating, seniority will still serve as the tiebreaker.
Rep. Bloom's legislation passed despite intense lobbying from government unions who placed the interests of 1.8 percent of non-proficient teachers over the needs of every other high-performing teacher in the state—and over the needs of students.
Attention now turns to the state Senate to approve HB 805. If the legislation passes the Senate, it will be up to Gov. Wolf to prioritize teachers over his biggest campaign contributors and sign the law.
Much of the reaction to the Basic Education Funding Commission’s final report has been positive—and for good reason. The commission proposed a formula that finally distributes funds based on enrollment and student need.
But a new formula alone is not sufficient to rectify Pennslyvania’s irrational system of distributing state aid to public schools. CF has written and testified about the state’s “hold harmless” provision, which guarantees each school district the same level of state funding it received the previous year. While the policy ostensibly exists to prevent school districts from being harmed by reduced funding, it has, in fact, brought harm and inequity to hundreds of growing districts across the commonwealth.
In order to ensure the year-long funding commission's work produces meaningful policy reform, a sensible transition away from hold harmless is essential. If, for example, the new formula is only applied to new spending—and some $5 billion in education funding remains attached to hold harmless—the broken funding method will remain unscathed.
In its report, the funding commission offered only broad suggestions regarding hold harmless. During a press conference last Thursday, Sen. Pat Browne explained phasing out hold harmless is a “budget decision” that must be tackled by the entire General Assembly.
This morning, the Senate Education Committee advanced SB 910, legislation that will implement the new formula. Unfortunately, SB 910 retains hold harmless for Basic Education spending during the “base year” (which will mean either 2014-15 or 2015-16) and applies the new formula only to future spending.
This is a moderate improvement over the status quo, as explained by Kara Newhouse in Lancaster Online:
In the past, districts were guaranteed at least as much money as they got the year before, and then some. Then the next year, the district would be guaranteed that new amount. And so on.
Doing that every year allowed inequities to snowball.
The commission instead wants to freeze the amount that districts get (either this year or next year) as the guaranteed base.
In other words, SB 910 would put an end to the “snowball effect” of annually resetting hold harmless levels, but it falls considerably short of an ideal outcome. The commission’s formula is rational, equitable, and transparent, which is why applying the formula to the entire Basic Education line item is preferable.
If lawmakers are hesitant to make substantial reforms in a single budget year, they could distribute a portion of the Basic Education appropriation under the proposed formula over a set time period. The funding commission, in its report, suggested 10 percent over 10 years, but this could be adjusted as lawmakers see fit. The key is to begin phasing in the new formula to as much of the line item as possible, while giving school districts reasonable time to prepare for new funding levels.
The sooner we distribute the bulk of education funding by a student-based formula, the better for Pennsylvania’s public school children.
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