In an important step for safety in the classroom, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that will put an end to the abhorrent practice of “passing the trash.” Gov. Corbett recently signed HB 1816, which prevents teachers accused of abuse from quietly resigning and relocating to a new school without having to inform that new school of their alleged misconduct. The law strengthens the background check process and prohibits school districts from entering into “confidentiality agreements” that suppress abuse allegations.
Government unions had previously taken a neutral position on this commonsense legislation.
Of course, the vast majority of teachers are committed to the well-being of their students. But state lawmakers should be commended for addressing the rising claims of inappropriate relationships, abuse, and staff misconduct in the commonwealth. A most tragic victim of "passing the trash" was Jeremy Edward Bell, a twelve year old student who did not surivive educator abuse. HB 1816 will help ensure that such an atrocity never happens again.
Having approved this important safety measure, attention should now turn to improving the quality of education in the commonwealth, both through expanded school choice and commonsense reforms to reward excellent teachers.
RELATED : SCHOOL CHOICE, TEACHER UNIONS, UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, EDUCATION
From education to health care to public pensions, it seems like the answer to every problem—for some—is always more spending. But where does that money come from? And why doesn’t it ever seem to solve the problem?
Matt Brouillette debated taxes and spending with Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center Executive Director Sharon Ward earlier this week on PCN TV’s Call-In Program. It would be an understatement to say their views differ.
One of the most frequently discussed sources of new revenue is a new severance tax on natural gas. This tax would be in addition to all the taxes businesses in that industry already pay. Matt says the industry should—and does—pay for the cost of government they use:
Beyond the question of whether it’s fair, would imposing a severance tax even cover the cost of new education funding proposals? If not, where will that extra money come from, since, as Matt says: “There isn’t a magic tree growing along the Susquehanna where this money comes from—it comes from working Pennsylvanians. And it will be the middle class that gets hit the hardest in this.”
Matt points at that we’re fooling ourselves if we think more money is the answer, especially when it comes to education. In Pennsylvania, per-pupil spending is already at an all-time high. More dollars won't make more scholars:
RELATED : EDUCATION SPENDING, TAXES & SPENDING, EDUCATION, TAXATION
CF recently attended a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) rally with the goal of bringing our message directly to the teachers and families of Philadelphia. What exactly is our message? PFT leadership is failing teachers, children, and the poor.
The teachers we spoke with at the rally passionately expressed their frustration with the current situation. They have plenty of reasons to be upset.
But among them should be the fact that as a member of the PFT, they are compelled to pay approximately $800 annually to an organization that uses their dues to fund blatantly political activities, whether they agree with them or not.
Time and again, we hear that union dues cannot be used for political purposes. Yet the evidence doesn’t support the claim. By their own admission, Pennsylvania's five largest government unions spent more than $5.5 million of their members’ dues on politics and lobbying last year. The unions report these numbers to the state government.
So what sort of union political activities have teachers funded this year? Here are just some examples:
- The PFT spent dues at the rate of $70,000 per minute on a misleading television ad blaming Governor Corbett for cutting education spending. (We have addressed this myth repeatedly.)
- The PFT sent out an email to its members explaining how important it is to elect Tom Wolf as governor.
- Another email was sent out to PFT members in September (below) urging teachers to canvass for Tom Wolf.
- The PFT’s own dues-funded website has an “Election 2014” corner urging members to help elect Tom Wolf.
- Even the PFT’s social media accounts contain advocacy on behalf of Tom Wolf.
The PFT isn’t the only teachers’ union using their members’ money for political purposes.
AFT-Pennsylvania paid for—with union dues—this mailer, repeating the "$1 billion education cut" myth, recommending Tom Wolf for governor and telling members to vote. The AFT also posted an endorsement page for Tom Wolf on their website.
The political expenditures don't end there. The AFT national headquarters gave $500,000 to PA Families First, a left-leaning Pennsylvania Super PAC, and it has announced it will spend $20 million on politics this election cycle—the largest amount in the union’s history.
The president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, is no stranger to the political scene. She appeared at the PFT rally last week to implore Philly educators to vote for Tom Wolf. In fact, the AFT posted this video of the PFT rally in which Weingarten yelled "This Governor is morally bankrupt and he has got to go!" as "Crush Corbett" signs were waved.
To be clear, unions have a right to engage in the political process. But they should not have the right to fund their political expenditures without their members' consent or collect that money at taxpayers' expense.
RELATED : UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, UNION DUES AND POLITICS
Government unions have not been reluctant to use their exclusive political privilege to finance candidates this election cycle.
According to an AP analysis, four of the top ten contributors to Tom Wolf's gubernatorial campaign are government unions, combining for nearly $2.5 million in donations to Wolf. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with supporting a candidate for office. In fact, it’s a right protected by the First Amendment.
The issue here is not candidates receiving union money, but that union leaders use taxpayers resources to collect their political money.
It's unfair to force taxpayers to subsidize the collection of money for political causes they find antithetical to their own values and beliefs.
It’s not fair that government unions are the only entities that have their political action committee (PAC) money and union dues, which can also be used for political purposes, collected at taxpayers' expense.
Despite the Senate's recent vote against paycheck protection, the fight to restore fairness and level the political playing field will continue.
RELATED : UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, UNION DUES AND POLITICS
Matt Brouillette and other members of Commonwealth Foundation were on the ground at the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) protest yesterday, handing out fliers and letting teachers know how PFT leaders are failing them, students, and Philadelphia's poor.
WPHT's Dom Giordano interviewed Matt Friday morning to find out why he waded into the midst of a union protest to advocate for the teachers, students, and the poor left behind by Philadelphia Federations of Teachers' policies.
Matt, a former high school teacher, said:
The Philadelphia Federations of Teachers is failing the kids, the teachers, and the poor in the city and it is their policies that block millions of dollars from going into the classroom . . . [PFT leaders] are harming the very teachers they are there to protect and they are preventing the kinds of reforms that are needed that I believe will make it better for the good teachers in the district.
In response to figures like former Gov. Rendell, Philadelphia's Mayor Nutter, and others coming out against PFT's actions, Matt said, “What you are seeing is a union that is out of touch with the public… even with those who are on their traditional side."
Listen here or below for more of the interview:
The Dom Giordano Show airs daily on WPHT in Philadelphia.
Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.
RELATED : EDUCATION SPENDING, TEACHER UNIONS, EDUCATION
Four years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, few think healthcare is more affordable.
Premiums and out-of-pocket costs are rising, a new wave of Pennsylvanians are losing their health insurance plans, and we're expanding Medicaid. The broken Medicaid program is notorious for high costs and poor healthcare outcomes. But real healthcare solutions exist.
During Healthcare Solutions Week, dozens of organizations around the country are highlighting commonsense reforms that can reduce the cost of care and improve access for those who can't afford insurance.
Elizabeth Stelle discusses the state of healthcare and real solutions for Pennsylvania on WSBA’s The Gary Sutton Show. Listen here or below:
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.
RELATED : TAXES & SPENDING, JOBS & ECONOMY, HEALTH CARE, MEDICAID
By standing in the way of tens of millions of new dollars for Philadelphia classrooms, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) has revealed its true identity—a self-interested, self-serving interest group that fails teachers, fails students, and fails the poor.
Today, the Commonwealth Foundation launched PFTfails.com to inform the city of Philadelphia—as well as all Pennsylvanians across the state—about the failed track record of PFT leadership. Instead of working to improve the broken status quo, PFT executives use children and teachers as pawns to protect their political influence.
And make no mistake: the status quo has demonstrably failed in Philadelphia public schools. More than 80 percent of students did not achieve proficiency in both reading and math in 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card. Violence remains a major problem in city schools, with 2,485 violent incidents reported during 2013-14. Despite the abysmal performance and violent conditions, PFT leaders oppose charter schools and tax credit scholarship programs for low-income families seeking better, safer education opportunities.
Construct a broken system, defend a broken system, and trap low-income families in the broken system. That’s the PFT playbook.
But it’s not just students and low-income families who are failed by union executives. PFT fails hard-working, high-performing Philadelphia teachers by clinging to rigid seniority mandates that can result in the best teachers being fired. What’s more, PFT refuses to embrace merit pay.
Why does PFT leadership stand in the way of higher salaries for excellent educators? Instead of encouraging and developing their best talent, PFT leaders oppose common sense reforms that would reward the most effective teachers and keep them in the classroom.
To make matters worse, the same teachers hurt by the PFT are forced to subsidize the PFT’s political agenda—whether the teachers agree with it or not. Philadelphia teachers are required to pay union dues or fair share fees—with an average annual cost exceeding $800—to various union affiliates just to keep their jobs.
Union executives take full advantage of their unique political privilege by spending dues at the astounding rate of $70,000 per minute on political television advertisements. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—the Washington D.C. based mothership of PFT—is primed to spend more on elections than ever before. This includes a recent gift of $500,000 financed by teachers' dues, and used for political attack ads via a ‘SuperPAC.’
All told, the PFT fails the entire city of Philadelphia by refusing to agree to health care concessions that would distribute an additional $54 million for classroom instruction in the current school year. Former Governor Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Nutter, and the Philadelphia Inquirer editorial board all agree that this money belongs in the classrooms.
But the PFT refuses to compromise. Add it to the list of PFT failures. They fail us all when they put personal political scores ahead of what’s best for teachers, students, and the poor.
RELATED : ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, SCHOOL CHOICE, TEACHER UNIONS, UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, EDUCATION, UNION DUES AND POLITICS
Thanks to your voices, yesterday afternoon the state Senate suddenly voted on an aspect of "paycheck protection." Senator Scott Wagner proposed an amendment yesterday that would end the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money in school districts.
This was the first full floor vote in the movement for paycheck protection and 20 bold senators stood up to powerful special interests to proclaim that taxpayer resources should never be used for politics.
|Richard Alloway||John Gordner||Elder Vogel|
|David Argall||Scott Hutchinson||Randy Vulakovich|
|Lisa Baker||Dominic Pileggi||Scott Wagner|
|Mike Brubaker||Robert Robbins||Kim Ward|
|Jake Corman||Joseph Scarnati||Donald White|
|John Eichelberger||Lloyd Smucker||Gene Yaw|
|Mike Folmer||Patricia Vance|
Thank you, senators!
While the amendment fell short, this is just a disappointment—not a setback—for the movement for ending the taxpayer-funded collection of union political money. Today was the last voting day before the election, but legislators can return to the Capitol until November 30 to take care of unfinished business.
Clearly, work remains to convince some lawmakers to support a position held by 79 percent of voters—and 72% of union members—that union leaders, not government, should collect political money and campaign contributions, so continue to make your voice heard to your lawmakers.
The full vote count is below.
|Alloway, Richard L. (R)||Yes||Gordner, John R. (R)||Yes||Stack, Michael J. (D)||No|
|Argall, David G. (R)||Yes||Greenleaf, Stewart (R)||No||Tartaglione, Christine (D)||No|
|Baker, Lisa (R)||Yes||Hughes, Vincent J. (D)||No||Teplitz, Rob (D)||No|
|Blake, John P. (D)||No||Hutchinson, Scott (R)||Yes||Tomlinson, Robert (R)||No|
|Boscola, Lisa M. (D)||No||Kasunic, Richard A (D)||No||Vance, Patricia H. (R)||Yes|
|Brewster, James R. (D)||No||Kitchen, Shirley (D)||No||Vogel, Elder A. (R)||Yes|
|Browne, Patrick M. (R)||No||Leach, Daylin (D)||No||Vulakovich, Randy (R)||Yes|
|Brubaker, Mike (R)||Yes||McIlhinney, Charles (R)||Absent||Wagner, Scott (R)||Yes|
|Corman, Jake (R)||Yes||Mensch, Bob (R)||No||Ward, Kim L. (R)||Yes|
|Costa, Jay (D)||No||Pileggi, Dominic (R)||Yes||Washington, LeAnna (D)||Absent|
|Dinniman, Andrew (D)||No||Rafferty, John C. (R)||No||White, Donald C. (R)||Yes|
|Eichelberger, John (R)||Yes||Robbins, Robert (R)||Yes||Wiley, Sean (D)||No|
|Erickson, Edwin B. (R)||No||Scarnati, Joseph (R)||Yes||Williams, Anthony (D)||No|
|Farnese, Lawrence (D)||No||Schwank, Judith (D)||No||Wozniak, John N. (D)||No|
|Ferlo, Jim (D)||No||Smith, Matt (D)||No||Yaw, Gene (R)||Yes|
|Folmer, Mike (R)||Yes||Smucker, Lloyd K. (R)||Yes||Yudichak, John T. (D)||No|
|Fontana, Wayne D. (D)||No||Solobay, Timothy J. (D)||No|
RELATED : UNIONS & LABOR POLICY, UNION DUES AND POLITICS
The York City school board is considering an intriguing proposal to turn over some of its schools to a charter operator to compete with the remaining city schools (if the district can come to a new collective bargaining agreement). Why is this transformation needed?
York City schools are among the worst performing schools in Pennsylvania. On the state's "School Performance Profile," the district ranked 499th out of 500 districts. And preliminary results show that most schools in the district declined in 2013-14.
Interstingly, commenters on a Fox 43 story about our analysis claim the district can't be expected to do better—that its performance is driven by bad parents and poor students. Certainly, poverty does play a role in academic performance, but high performing schools across Pennsylvania and the nation succeed even with low-income students.
We can, and must, do a better job to help our poorest students. And it is clear that despite the challenges, York can do better.
Not only do York schools score worse than the state average, but they perform worse than the average among all low-income students in Pennsylvania. That is, the dreadful test scores aren't driven by poverty alone. Nor is the problem in underfunding. York City schools saw a 33 percent increase—adjusted for inflation—in spending per student over the past decade. The $15,256 the district spends per student exceeds the statewide average.
Consider this: New Hope Academy Charter School was shut down after 2013 for a poor performance record—yet it performed better than most of the schools in the district.
The status quo simply isn't good enough. To send a lifeline to York children, major change is needed. Choice and competition, along with accountability measures via a performance contract, would better serve students and families.
RELATED : ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT, SCHOOL CHOICE, EDUCATION
Yesterday, we released an analysis of the impact of Tom Wolf’s education spending and tax proposals, finding Pennsylvania’s income tax rate would have to increase by more than 121 percent to pay for just two of Tom Wolf’s major education proposals. But the increase could actually be much higher. A story in Capitolwire (paywall) yesterday quotes Wolf's answer to a question about the ambiguity surrounding his tax proposal:
"If you're in the 70,000-90,000 dollar range as an individual - and you could double that if you're married - you should not pay any more in taxes. And people making below that would get a break. That's my goal."
Wolf’s proposal would certainly violate the uniformity clause (Article VIII, Section 1) of Pennsylvania’s Constitution because it would necessitate two types of tax exemptions: one for those filing singly and one for those filing jointly in order to ensure couples who make $180,000 or less don’t get hit with a higher rate.
But if Wolf were to propose a tax structure that lowered taxes for those making less than “$70,000 to $90,000” and generated the nearly $4.6 billion needed to pay for his education spending, what would that require?
Using $80,000, the middle point of Tom Wolf's suggested dollar range, as our “break-even point”—the point where taxpayers would begin to see their tax bills rise, we have outlined what a Wolf tax structure might look like.
To achieve the goals stated above, there would need to be a “universal exemption” of $52,200, requiring the tax rate to increase from 3.07 percent to 8.85 percent.
That is, Pennsylvania’s income tax rate would increase by more than 188 percent.
|Tax Rate Needed to Pay for Wolf Education Proposals, $52,200 Exemption|
|Total Taxable Income With Exemption||$170,419,261,600|
|Total Revenue Raised||$15,082,104,652|
|Revenue Under Current Tax Structure||$10,442,963,000|
|Additional Revenue Under Wolf Plan||$4,639,141,652|
|Source: Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, Income Tax Statistics|
While this model would reduce the tax bill for the vast majority of those making less than $80,000, it would result in dramatically higher taxes for families and small businesses earning more than that. The tax burden would rise by $1,160 for a household with $100,000 in income, and $3,472 for a household making more than $140,000.
Tax Bill at Current Rate
Tax Bill at New Rate (With exemption)
Increase in Tax Bill
What may be most astounding is the impact on Pennsylvania’s economic competitiveness.
Currently only the nine states with no income tax, or an income tax just on investment income, have a lower top rate than Pennsylvania.
But under this plan, with an 8.85 percent rate, Pennsylvania would jump 33 other states. As a result, we’d have the 8th highest state income tax rate in the country.
RELATED : TAXES & SPENDING
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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.