Education

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.


Union Abuses Force Pennsylvania Teachers to Speak Out

September 19, 2013 | Commentary by Bob Dick

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.



Putting Students First in Chester Upland

AUGUST 28, 2015

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 Housewho are also facing the possibility of foregoing monthly paychecksare 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. 

 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 02:24 PM | Comments

Audio: Helping Teachers Speak Out

AUGUST 27, 2015

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. 

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

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.

posted by JONATHAN REGINELLA | 00:01 PM | Comments

Wolf’s Ugly Record on Education

AUGUST 27, 2015

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. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 11:00 AM | Comments

Why Teachers Need a Bill of Rights

AUGUST 25, 2015

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.  

posted by GINA DIORIO | 00:30 PM | Comments

Wolf to Chester Families: ‘There is No Escape’

AUGUST 19, 2015

Tom Wolf’s record on public education is well documented. The governor is hostile to schools of choice, cozy to union interests, and wedded to the educational status quo.

Chester Upland School District is ground zero for the most recent example of this hyper-partisan, antiquated philosophy.

Yesterday, the Wolf administration went to court in Delaware County, filing an amended recovery plan for Chester Upland that would slash district payments to charter schools. Officials project $25 million in savings entirely through reduced payments for special education charter students and flat-funding cyber charter students at $5,950 per pupil.

Although Wolf admits that district finances have been “mismanaged for over 25 years,” his solution is to effectively block families from a escaping a school system that has, in the words of Wolf, “failed its students.”

What does failure look in Chester Upland? Two percent of students are proficient in math at Chester High School. Sixteen percent are proficient in reading. The average SAT score for Chester High students is 725 (out of 1600), and the School Performance Profile (SPP) score is 33.5.

In contrast, the three brick and mortar charter schools that receive Chester Upland students have SPP scores of 71.7, 61.5, and 51.3. Parents and students have been fleeing to better-performing schools.

Persistently low academic performance spurred almost 54 percent of Chester students to enroll in charters. Naturally, charter payments assume a significant chunk of the district budget—46 percent in 2014-15.

Although charter students account for more than half of the district’s enrollment, they comprise less than half of the district’s cost. 

Chester Upland certainly faces financial challenges, but charters are not the culprit. Amazingly, the revised recovery plan includes no other cost saving measures aside from the punitive action taken against charters.  

The illogical Wolf Doctrine on public education is perfectly encapsulated, here, by Education Secretary Pedro Rivera:

For too long the quality of education a student receives has been dictated by their zip code, and in some cases a child’s education has suffered due to the missteps of adults. Reducing the structural deficit is essential in order to secure financial stability for the district and make the improvements needed to provide Chester Upland students with the opportunities they deserve.”

These remarks are detached from reality, as it is the Wolf administration perpetuating the “education-by-zip code” travesty that has dominated public education for decades. Trapping families in a failed district and arbitrarily punishing students seeking alternative educational options will not produce “Schools that Teach.”  

posted by JAMES PAUL | 10:27 AM | Comments

Discouraging Signs in York City

AUGUST 5, 2015

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.

In April, Wolf replaced Meckley with Carol Saylor, who opposes charter schools and hinted that her recovery plan could take up to ten years.

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.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 03:30 PM | Comments

Union Politicking Shows Need for Mary's Law

AUGUST 4, 2015

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

posted by GINA DIORIO | 02:40 PM | Comments

Strange Arguments Against Seniority Reform

JULY 22, 2015

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. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 10:30 AM | Comments

Lawsuit Inspires Teacher to Speak Out

JULY 20, 2015

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.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 02:14 PM | Comments

America Works (On Misleading the Public)

JULY 13, 2015

Tell the Truth

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.

RealityNone 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 called 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.

posted by BOB DICK, NATHAN BENEFIELD | 04:00 PM | Comments

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