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 have 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.
Think there's a problem with Philadelphia's schools? You're not alone. More than half of Philadelphia voters said their schools deserved a D or an F grade in a poll released last month. These problems won't be solved simply with increased funding - that remedy has already been tried. It's time for a new approach.
In 2001, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to enact an education tax credit aimed at corporations. Since then, the popular Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program has provided more than 430,000 scholarships to students from low- and middle-income families across the commonwealth seeking the right school for their child.
Would you believe that nearly three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s voters underestimate how much money we spend on schools? Shocking but true, according to a new poll testing the public’s knowledge of school funding facts.
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Jane Ladley was a special education teacher in Chester County for more than 25 years until she retired this year. She may have left teaching, but she has a bone to pick with the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the union that represents some 180,000 educators around the state.
In a landmark step, Ladley and Lancaster County teacher Chris Meier sued the PSEA for violating their rights as "religious objectors." It's the first case for newly established public interest law firm, the Fairness Center.
Ladley and Meier are fee payers—teachers who don't officially join the union, but by contract rules and state law are forced to pay a "fair share fee" to the union to cover representation. However, both teachers became religious objectors who, because their faith conflicts with union support of policies such as abortion, decided to have their fee instead donated to a charity.
In this case, both teachers got stuck in limbo. The PSEA accepted their religious objections, but have nixed the charities the teachers chose. Christen Smith from Capitolwire (paywall) reported on Ladley's experience:
“I first chose a scholarship in our local community for students who showed an interest in the Constitution, which is definitely close to my heart,” she said in editorial submitted to newspapers by her attorney, Nate Bohlander, assistant general counsel for the Harrisburg-based Fairness Center. “They looked at the organization sponsoring it and said they would not agree to it based on it being a political group.”
Ladley said she searched for another charity with a similar mission — she chose one that offers classes on the Constitution, instead — but the PSEA hasn't approved it to date, either.
“They are telling me which groups I have to choose,” she said. “It’s a wrong that needs to be righted. I’m doing this on principle and for the other teachers coming up through the ranks, so that they have these options available to them.”
The PSEA has 20 days from the filing of the lawsuit (September 18) to respond.
According to the Fairness Center, the PSEA is exploiting a loophole in Pennsylvania law that effectively silences teachers: The 1988 agency shop law requires the money to go to a "non-religious charity" both union and teacher agree on, but doesn't prescribe a procedure or deadline to reach that agreement.
Ladley says the amount of money at stake or whether she's still in the classroom is irrelevant. "Why should I have to fund an organization that counters my faith and values so I can work as a teacher?" she said. Even if only future Pennsylvania teachers see their rights better protected, for her, it's worth the fight.
Here is the full version:
Ed Rendell appears more interested in defending his tenure as governor than actually discussing the facts about Philadelphia. The Commonwealth Foundation’s analysis of school spending, enrollment, and staffing trends spanned several administrations. We present the facts—most notably that spending has dramatically increased—regardless of who resides in the governor’s mansion.
Despite that increased investment—more than $1 billion since 2002—Philadelphia public schools continue to leave children unprepared. Four in five students failed to meet proficiency in reading and math in 2013, according to the Nation’s Report Card.
These results shouldn’t be surprising, however. A study conducted by the 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education found “either no or very weak association between levels of education expenditures and student achievement” in Pennsylvania.
Rendell goes on to blame Republicans for slashing state education funding. This claim is false. The loss of funding was due to the expiration of temporary federal stimulus money Rendell used to balance the state budget. Today, state education funding in Pennsylvania is at a record high.
The reality facing Philadelphia, though, is that pension costs are consuming more and more of the increase in spending—the result of legislation signed by Rendell and backed by teachers’ union lobbyists to underfund pensions and delay those cost increases until after he left office.
In Philadelphia alone, contributions to the Public School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) increased by $133 million over the last 5 years, which is equivalent to the salary of 2,000 school teachers.
The pension crisis is real, and its impact is handcuffing Philadelphia and school districts across the state.
Legislation to protect children from predators in the classroom has stalled in Harrisburg.
Union executives are standing in the way.
Currently, teachers who sexually abuse or have been otherwise accused of harming children are permitted to reach a "confidentiality agreement" with their district and quietly resign. If the same teacher applies for a position in a new district, they are not required to inform the new school of their alleged misconduct.
An in-depth report from PennLive explains the teacher unions' unpopular position:
Child welfare advocates blame teachers' unions for not backing transparency throughout the background check process. Union representatives refute that claim, saying they're generally neutral on the bill.
"We support efforts to keep schools safe, but we also support due process for teachers and other school employees," Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Wythe Keever said.
Due process is not the issue. The issue is an outrageous loophole in state law allowing accused teachers to resign and relocate without having to inform their new district of alleged abuse.
Far from denying due process, the legislation provides for more thorough background checks and allows employers to know if a potential hire was previously investigated.
We all know the vast majority of teachers are committed to the well-being of their students. But apparently union executives won't lift a finger to make classrooms more safe.
Who are We?
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.