Separating taxpayer resources from private or political purposes is a principle ingrained in our society. It's one of the many reasons Pennsylvania politicians have spent a significant amount of time in prison for mixing campaign and legislative resources.
Yet, across the nation release time is a glaring exception.
The alliance between the government and public sector unions has given the latter countless privileges, including sanctioning a practice known as “official time” or “release time,” whereby public employees conduct union business on the taxpayers' dime.
This past May, President Trump signed an executive order designed to limit the amount of time public employees spend performing union activities instead of public duties. According to the latest numbers from the Office of Budget and Management, federal employees clocked in over 3.6 million hours on release time, costing taxpayers more than $175 million.
This executive order also requires employees to receive a supervisor’s permission before using release time, enhancing accountability. Essentially, the order ensures public employees will work for the taxpayers instead of special interests.
Pennsylvania faces a similar problem.
Every day, hard working Pennsylvanians pay taxes to their local school district to finance our educational system. Unfortunately, teachers in this system can receive taxpayer-funded salaries without working for the taxpayer. These “ghost teachers” remain on the school district payroll while working for the union full-time.
This relationship between unions and the school district is double-dealing at its finest.
Ghost teaching is authorized by 109 school districts, which makes up approximately 20 percent of all Pennsylvania school districts. In one school district, taxpayers have paid more than $1 million dollars for ghost teachers. In some cases, unions reimburse districts for ghost teacher salaries, but that isn't required.
To be clear, unions should be free to make personnel decisions with their own resources. However, they should not use public resources for this purpose. Public officials must work for the public because they are paid by the public.
These unethical government union privileges need to be taken taken seriously. President Trump has legitimized this issue and taken the appropriate steps. Pennsylvania lawmakers should follow suit and pass ghost teacher legislation.