Government Unions Threaten to Eclipse School Choice

Before he became governor, Tom Wolf wasn’t just an advocate for school choice. He was also a participant. During his high school years Wolf attended the Hill School, a private boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. While serving as CEO of the Wolf Organization, the future governor also donated $60,000 to the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, which provides private scholarships to tens of thousands with low income families with K-12 students. The Wolf Organization received $54,000 in tax credits in return for its contribution. 

So, what has happened since Wolf was first elected governor in 2014 and re-elected in 2018?

Last summer, Wolf vetoed House Bill 800, which would have nearly doubled the amount available to the EITC to $210 million annually. He has also rolled out a series of proposed executive actions and legislative measures that would limit charter school enrollment and funding.  

There are about 140,000 Pennsylvania students enrolled in charters and about 240,000 enrolled in private schools, according to the state Department of Education. Unfortunately, those children's families are in no position to take on the power and influence of the teachers’ unions, which are opposed to school choice initiatives.

Since he first became governor in 2014, Wolf has been the top recipient of PAC funding from the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA): $2.4 million, including more than $1 million in 2018.

Graphic: Union PAC Donations to Wolf

The 2019 LM-2 financial disclosure from the U.S. Department of Labor shows PSEA’s membership has dipped slightly below 180,000, but this National Education Association affiliate remains the largest public employee union in the state. The American Federation of Teachers, which is the second-largest teachers’ union in the country, also packs a wallop in Pennsylvania. The AFT-PA has about 26,000 members statewide. AFT has contributed about $1.4 million to Wolf since 2014 (including $500,000 in 2018), with another $330,000 coming from state and local affiliates. 

In fact, since 2010, Wolf is the top recipient of government union PAC funding, taking in more than $10 million from teachers’ unions, AFSCME, SEIU, and UFCW locals. 

Graphic: Top Recipients of Government Union PAC Donations

Programs like the EITC and charter schools have been so successful they have waiting lists. But there are indications that the political playing field is beginning to level. The U.S. Supreme Court recently invalidated mandatory union dues and fees in the public sector. This means government workers who don't agree with the policy stance of union leaders no longer have to pay for the political activism of those same union leaders.

Parents looking for more education choices may not have the same political sway on the governor as public sector unions, yet lawmakers continue to pass tax credit expansions showing there is a growing recognition that education reform is imperative.