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.
Over the next nine months, many students will have their lives transformed for the better. But for thousands of other children, this time of year is defined by disappointment. They are trapped in schools that don’t meet their needs—effectively held hostage by a system that limits choice and opportunity.
As students across Pennsylvania head back to school, government unions that are supposed to speak for teachers are instead trampling their rights in order to advance the union leaders’ agenda. A review of labor contracts in Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts shows five ways these collective bargaining agreements trap teachers—and cost taxpayers:
School district reserves total $4.3 billion statewide. When cries for more school funding—and property tax increases—are constant, how much is too much to hold in reserve?
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Fauna Shaffer Butera, mother of two young boys just miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh, opted to enroll her sons in Young Scholars Charter School. She was shocked to learn of the transportation option afforded by her school district of residence.
Northgate School District offered Fauna bus passes for her five and seven year old, which would require the following route:
Her children would have to walk over a block in Avalon to get the PAT bus on California Avenue at 6:30 a.m. and take it to downtown Pittsburgh, where they would cross a busy intersection to the Wood Street T Station and get on the T.
Once the children get off at the Killarney Station, they first have to cross the T tracks and then navigate on a foot path through a tunnel, which cars come through one at a time because it's so narrow.
After the tunnel, the children have to walk nearly a mile up a hill in a neighborhood with no sidewalks until they reach Young Scholars Charter School at the top.
Here's the full story from WPXI news:
CF reviewed labor contracts in each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts and uncovered several interesting findings. These contracts, known as collective bargaining agreements, are negotiated behind closed doors between local teachers’ unions and school boards. They include routine information about salaries and benefits, but the contracts also outline maintenance of membership clauses, fair share fees, and ghost teacher arrangements.
- Teachers in 62 percent of districts are trapped in their unions by maintenance of membership clauses, which stipulate teachers may only exit a union during a specific time period—often just days—near the expiration of a contract.
- Nearly 4 in 5 school districts require non-union members to pay fair share fees to the union. These teachers are forced to pay more than 80 percent of traditional dues to the union, even though they have chosen not to be members.
- More than 9 in 10 labor contracts include release time language, allowing school employees to attend union conventions, serve as union delegates, or conduct union business. Release time also establishes the basis for ghost teachers, whereby school employees accrue seniority, receive taxpayer-funded salary, and amass pension benefits, all while conducting full-time work for the union, a private organization. Read more about ghost teachers.
These provisions tilt the playing field toward teachers’ unions at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers alike.
Patrick Gibbons chronicles Malachi’s experience on RedefinED Online:
For nearly three years, starting before his third birthday, Malachi lived in an orphanage in Adama, in central Ethiopia. Born with spina bifida, a birth defect that causes leg weakness and limits mobility, he had to crawl across the orphanage’s concrete floors.
The orphans shared clothes from a communal closet and he rarely wore shoes causing his feet to become covered with callouses. At night he slept in a crib in a shared room with five other orphans. They ate communal meals prepared by their caretakers over a wood-burning fireplace. With his doctor more than an hour away in Addis Ababa, the capital, he rarely had access to much-needed medical attention.
His caregivers did their best with what little resources they had, but Malachi was only surviving. It seemed impossible that he would one day stand on his own — much less walk, or go to school.
All of that changed last year, when Malachi arrived in Florida where he now lives with two adoptive parents, and, with the help of a revolutionary scholarship program, has begun pursuing an education.
After speaking to other parents with special needs children, Kamden and Mitchell Kuhn learned about Florida’s education savings account program, which helps parents customize a unique schooling experience for their child.
They applied for the Gardiner Scholarship and enrolled him in Ruskin Christian School. Kamden Kuhn said the nearby public school was good, but she didn’t want her son pulled out of class time for therapy. She wanted Malachi to have the same amount of class time as the other students. The Kuhns used funds left over after paying his tuition to purchase after-school physical, occupational and behavioral therapy.
His mother said the therapists provided instruction and therapy through play.
“I’m not the best educator for my son,” Kuhn said. “But this allows me to shop around for the best educators and best therapists. I can decide what is best, because I know him best.”
Malachi is thriving in an educational environment that is perfectly suited to his needs:
“He made so much progress in the first nine months,” Kuhn recalled. He quickly started to learn to speak English and to stand upright with the aid of a walker. Now stronger than ever, he uses a forearm cane to walk.
“Ms. Stacy helped me learn to walk, and Ms. Colleen helped me get in control,” Malachi said of his physical and occupational therapists. In a telephone interview, he said phonics is his favorite subject because he loves learning letters and how to put them together to make words.
Malachi’s story is inspiring. It also provides a call to action for Pennsylvania to move forward with ESA legislation. Every child in the commonwealth deserves educational opportunity, especially those with learning disabilities or special needs. Read more about ESAs here.
Fauna Shaffer Butera, mother of two young boys just miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh, opted to enroll her sons in Young Scholars Charter School. She was shocked to learn of the transportation option afforded by her school district of residence. Northgate School District offered Fauna bus passes ...