Matt Damon School Choice Film Screening Nov. 2

Matt Damon School Choice Film Screening Nov. 2 — A film concerning school choice will be aired, 7 p.m., Nov. 2 at the Bryn Mawr Church of the Redeemer, 230 Pennswood Road, Bryn Mawr, Pa. 19010. It’s called Backpack Full of Cash and will be narrated by noted Hollywood star, Harvey-Weinstein enabler and Howard Zinn fan Matt Damon.

The tagline is “Why are vouchers and school choice killers of local public schools?”

Attend if you can. As Joanne Yurchak wisely notes conversation is good.

The event is free and sponsored by Parents Across America — Suburban Philadelphia, and the Moms’ Group of Bryn Mawr Church of the Redeemer.

 

Matt Damon School Choice Film Screening Nov. 2

Matt Damon School Choice Film Airing Nov. 2

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

By Chris Freind CHRIS FREIND

Like clockwork, several things occur each September in Pennsylvania: Kids have a hard time getting out of bed, compasses required for math class are never used; and, most predictable, teachers will strike.

On that last point, the teachers’ union in Methacton School District in Montgomery County did not disappoint. Just as students and teachers were settling into a rhythm, the union called for a walkout. The result? More than 400 teachers are walking the picket line – potentially for weeks – while 5,000 students sit idle, leaving their parents frantically scrambling.

And it’s not just Methacton, as other strikes are occurring in Pennsylvania, with more surely to come. It’s time to end the recklessness of holding parents and students hostage – especially because there is no downside for teachers, as they will be fully paid for all 180 days of school, regardless of the outcome – and reform our state’s inefficient and expensive educational system.

To modify the legendary quote from Dean Wormer in “Animal House:” Arrogant, greedy and aloof is no way to go through life.

But that’s exactly how the teachers’ unions in Pennsylvania have behaved for decades.

With millions in forced dues – monies automatically deducted from teachers’ paychecks even if they don’t belong – the unions have constructed a statewide political empire, using their muscle to crush any opposition.

To their credit, they have been immensely successful in squeezing every last penny from broke school districts and overtaxed residents. In good economies and bad, they demand and receive large raises and benefits, including, in many cases, free or highly subsidized health care.

So it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania leads the nation in school strikes, with some years seeing more walkouts than all other states combined. As a result, its teachers are near the top in salaries and benefits. Inexcusably, the same cannot be said of student achievement, as SAT scores, literacy, graduation rates and students going on to college are perennially much lower.

And you can’t simply blame city schools for dismal student achievement. A quarter of Methacton’s 11th graders aren’t proficient in math, and almost one of five is deficient in reading. Yet over the last 15 years, the number of students in that district has dropped by 10 percent while spending has more than doubled, to almost $110 million per year. In other words, there’s more money to educate fewer students, but student achievement isn’t where it needs to be, and yet the teachers’ union authorizes a strike because it wants more, more, more. You don’t need an education to know there’s something seriously wrong with that picture.

And that has left many citizens scratching their heads.

Teachers are universally respected for the priceless role they play, but when they strike, it’s seen as a slap in the face – especially as the private sector continues to hemorrhage jobs, with many paying astronomical health-care costs.

Of course, to the unions, more money is the cure-all to improved student performance. Pay the teachers more and give them even better benefits, while increasing funding for public education, and all problems will be solved. But we’ve been doing that for decades, and education achievement hasn’t improved.

The global economy is here to stay, so our dismal academic performance has become dire. Our students are no longer competing solely against those in San Francisco and Seattle, but Stockholm, Singapore and Sydney. Yet compared to our top 30 global counterparts, the U.S. is, at best, in the middle of the pack and more often, much lower.

The solution is to instill accountability and rein in out-of-control unions. Here are two steps to accomplish that:

1) Inject competition by enacting school choice. When parents have a choice in their children’s education, schools that do well will attract more students and succeed, while those that continue with the status quo will lose students and fail. The free market system that has served us so well will have the same effect on our educational product. And for the first time in generations, our students would actually learn the skills necessary to succeed in life.

2) Outlaw school strikes. No public-sector union should have the right to strike, which is why our police and firemen are prohibited from doing so. It is beyond explanation that teachers, in whose hands we place our most valuable asset – our children – are not considered equally essential.

Strikes are disruptive to all parties. Parents endure incredible stress in their frantic search for child care, often risking job security by tending to their children (and blowing hard-earned vacation), and students’ disciplined approach to schoolwork is shattered, with no possibility of a seamless transition after a long strike.

And whom are we kidding? Sure, the law mandates a 180-day school year, but are students really learning anything sitting in a classroom over the Christmas break, or in late June, weeks after exams have been taken? In effect, students are held hostage so that teachers can justify their salaries and school districts don’t jeopardize their state subsidies.

Often overlooked is that teachers are also victimized by strikes. They become pariahs in their communities, and respect for their profession takes a hit. Let’s be crystal clear: Many teachers often don’t agree with union leaders’ decisions. But when that leadership calls for a strike vote – and refuses to use a secret ballot, as is almost always the case – there is virtually no chance of opposition. The risk is simply too high, and mob mentality rules the day.

At the minimum, there should be a law requiring secret ballot votes for school strikes, monitored by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor. That common-sense, practical solution would be overwhelmingly supported by the public – and teachers.

But if you outlaw strikes, basic fairness dictates that there should be a method to resolve an impasse. Perhaps the most viable alternative would be final best offer arbitration, the same system Major League Baseball uses with great success.

In regular arbitration, both sides throw out a number, with the arbiter often adding them together and dividing by two. That’s inefficient, because when one side makes a reasonable offer while the other side comes in with a pie-in-the-sky proposal, the result is lopsided in favor of the greedier party.

But with final best offer arbitration, the arbiter can’t compromise. He must take one of the two proposals in its entirety. That being the case, both sides innately understand the need to be reasonable in their one-and-only proposal, or risk getting blown completely out of the box. Cooler heads would prevail with final best offer arbitration, which is definitely in the taxpayers’ best interest.

Is final best offer arbitration ideal? No, since you are placing an unelected arbiter in a position of power, but in the real world, it’s the best we have to stop unaffordable contracts. It is a classic example of philosophical versus practical, and in this case, the practical side should prevail.

But there’s a huge irony. Because the union leadership has pushed the envelope for so long, the pendulum may be swinging back hard, to the point of potentially being unfair.

Outlawing school strikes (as they are in 37 states) can be enacted like any other law: Passed by the Legislature and affixed with the governor’s signature.

Arbitration, however, requires a constitutional amendment, a difficult process and one that would take at least four years. So the unions are facing the possibility of seeing their right to strike abolished, with no chance of arbitration as recourse. In effect, our teachers would be completely beholden to the school boards, and that is certainly not in anyone’s best interest, most of all our children’s.

But right or wrong, they made their bed, and now they may have to lie in it.

Aware that their backs are to the wall, the unions have spent considerable sums on candidates sympathetic to their “plight.” Unfortunately for them, they’ve suffered huge losses, and the head of the dragon is in danger of being decapitated, as Republicans hold sizable legislative majorities, and the upcoming governor’s race could easily swing to the GOP.

Hopefully, the do-nothing state Legislature will stop sleeping in class and strike while the iron’s hot, outlawing school strikes once and for all.

If our state lawmakers do that, they would deserve an A.

 

Teacher Strikes Harm Children, Ban Them

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher — Last week, Governor Wolf once again put his ideology ahead of what is best for Pennsylvania when He nominated Jerry Oleksiak to be the new Labor Secretary. Mr. Oleksiak is the President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers’ union in the Commonwealth. Making matters worse, Oleksiak also took part in one of the most tax-payer abusive practices available to union officials: he was a ghost teacher.

As a ghost teacher, Oleksiak worked full time for the PSEA, but he collected a paycheck, accumulated seniority, and pension benefits from the Upper Merion School District. Although the district was reimbursed for his salary and health benefits, Oleksiak and the PSEA still rely on the generosity of taxpayers to cover his lifetime pension benefits.

Mr. Oleksiak penned an editorial questioning the fitness of President Trump’s selection for Education Secretary because of her lack of experience in the classroom. Using experience as a measuring stick, how does Oleksiak stack up?

Has he ever dealt with the unemployment system as an employer? Has he ever had to appeal a workers’ compensation assessment? We can continue this line of inquiry for some time, and the answer would continue to show a dearth of experience on the part of Mr. Oleksiak.

In our conversations with business owners and employers, no one has ever complained to us that Pennsylvania wasn’t pro-organized labor enough. According to most recent studies, Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom of places to do business; our labor regulations are a significant reason why. A Labor Secretary with no experience in the private sector and a decade’s worth of experience advocating for policies hostile to the best interest of taxpayers would make the Commonwealth even less appealing to job creators.

Oleksiak’s nomination will go to the Senate where there is an opportunity to stop it. Republicans have a supermajority in the Senate, but so far they have not been willing to use it to benefit taxpayers. Here is a chance for Senators to remedy that mistake.

— By Leo Knepper

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher

 

Jerry Oleksiak Ghost Teacher

Pa School Districts Reserves Are $4.4 B

Pa School Districts Reserves Are $4.4 B

By Leo Knepper

The amount of money held by school districts in “reserve” has more than doubled over the last 10 years according to a new report by the Commonwealth Foundation. At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, district reserves were over $4.4 billion. According to that same report, there were 13 school districts who held more than 20 percent of their budget in reserves and requested property tax increases well above the limit established by the Department of Education. Not only did they request higher taxes, they did it between eight and ten times in a ten year period. In other words, the school districts could operate on their savings accounts for more than 20 percent of the year, but still wanted taxpayers to pad the accounts even more.

One of the names on the list, Lower Merion School District, has been sued by local taxpayers for their budget practices. A Commonwealth Judge found their budget practices so egregious that the district was ordered to roll back their 2016 tax increase. despite a $56 million reserve fund, Lower Merion is seeking a tax increase again this year that exceeds the state cap.

The worst offenders among schools seeking unnecessary tax increases are not confined geographically. Rather, it seems that there is a systemic problem among school boards. It is hard to argue against keeping a rainy day fund in reserve. At some point, the reserve fund becomes an insult to taxpayers. Although school district finances do not garner the same attention as national, or even state-level scandals, understanding how they are spending your money is vital.

To see how your local school district stacks up, take a few minutes and review the financial data collected by the Department of Education. You will probably be surprised by what you find.

PS-The Senate will begin working to advance pension reform legislation later this week. Their legislation does not include funding reform at this point. Please, take a moment and contact the General Assembly about this important issue.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Pa School Districts Reserves Are $4.4 B

Pa School Districts Reserves Are $4.4 B

MPGA — Senate Ed Committee OKs 5 Sane Bills

MPGA — Senate Ed Committee OKs 5 Sane Bills  — Pennsylvania State Sen. John Eichelberger (R-30) reports that the Senate Education Committee, yesterday, April 19, approved five bills, including legislation intended to improve transparency and legislation expanding access to vocational education and school resources to students.

The bills are all small but significant advances to the cause of common sense that should be no-brainers but have long be stifled by our special-interest wannabee masters.

Two of the bills are sponsored by Stewart Greenleaf (R-12) and one by John Rafferty (R-44). Neither is considered the type who would fly a Gadsden flag and wear a “Don’t Tread on Me” teeshirt.

It’s amazing the progress that is being made. Make Pennsylvania Great Again.

Here are the bills. Hat tip Joanne Yurchak.

Senate Bill 88 (Greenleaf) – The legislation would amend current law to prohibit censorship of an American or Pennsylvania historical document based on any religious content. The bill would allow documents or portions of documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitutions of Pennsylvania and the United States; Acts of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and of the United States Congress, etc. to be used, read or posted in their entirety regardless of whether such documents contain religious references.

Senate Bill 93 (Greenleaf) – The legislation would amend current law to provide that a pupil of a home education program or a private tutoring program shall not be refused admission to courses held in additional schools or departments such as a vocational school. Under current law, a school district is not required to provide dual enrollment for homeschooled students.

Senate Bill 273 (Rafferty) – The legislation would prohibit any form of state funding to any public or private institution of higher education that designates itself as a “sanctuary campus”, refuses to share information about undocumented students, or in any way impedes the federal government’s ability to enforce federal immigration laws.

Senate Bill 383 (White) – The legislation would authorize school boards to allow certain school employees to access firearms on school property and further enhance security measures when emergencies arise. If a local board decides to establish such a policy, any person so authorized must at a minimum have a license to carry a concealed firearm; and maintain a current certification in the use and handling of a firearm.

Senate Bill 592 (Stefano) – The legislation would amend current law to require that when a school board extends an offer of employment for a district superintendent, assistant district superintendent, associate superintendent, or any principal, it must first post the terms of employment on the school district’s public website.

 MPGA — Senate Ed Committee OKs 5 Sane Bills

 MPGA -- Senate Ed Committee OKs 5 Sane Bills

Desperate PSEA Responds To Sen. Wagner

Desperate PSEA Responds To Sen. Wagner 

By Sen. Scott Wagner

I have repeatedly expressed that the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), is the number one public sector union that opposes any type of reform in Harrisburg, particularly pension reform and school tax elimination. 

Apparently as a result of yesterday’s email blast, I have gotten the PSEA’s attention.

Last evening, with the click of a button on a computer keyboard, the PSEA sent an email blast to their 180,000 teacher members.

The email sent out by the PSEA is shown at the end of my email.

When you read the email sent out by the PSEA, it clear to see that the PSEA is trying to raise money for their left-wing, anti-children political agenda by attacking me and one of my colleagues, Senator John Eichelberger, by telling their members inaccurate information. 

I need your help to fight the PSEA Union Bosses who are blocking critical reforms that need to take place in Harrisburg.

Every single day, I hear from people that their number one concern is about school taxes on real estate. Last evening, I held a tele-townhall meeting and 90 percent of the questions I received were questioning what we are doing in Harrisburg to solve this large problem.

Let me crystal clear…

The PSEA Union Bosses are against any effort to eliminate school taxes on real estate.

The PSEA Union Bosses are opposed to any pension reform.

The PSEA Union Bosses are against paycheck protection, which is the deduction of union dues from teacher paychecks.

The PSEA Union Bosses are against the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.

Governor Wolf and the PSEA Union Bosses have a very strong relationship with each other.

The PSEA was the largest contributor to Governor Wolf’s campaign when he ran for Governor.

The PSEA has to be stopped and I will lead the fight against the PSEA, so that we are able to enact reforms in Harrisburg that benefit the taxpayers, not the PSEA union machine. 

Here is what the PSEA sent regarding me:

Sen. Wagner represents the 28th District in the Pennsylvania Senate.

Desperate PSEA Responds To Sen. Wagner

PSEA Corrupts Pennsylvania, Teachers Would Quit It If Able

PSEA Corrupts Pennsylvania, Teachers Would Quit It If Able

PSEA Corrupts Pennsylvania, Teachers Would Quit It If Able By Sen. Scott Wagner

I have reported over the last several years in my email updates the power public sector unions have in Harrisburg and that these unions are essentially running Pennsylvania because of their power and influence.

There are two distinct types of unions: private sector unions and public sector unions. 

The first union group would be private sector unions, commonly known as the trade unions.

Trade unions represent electricians, plumbers, steelworkers, bricklayers, carpenters, equipment operators, steamfitters, and glass installers – mainly construction related workers.

The second union group would be classified as public sector employee unions.

Public sector unions represent school teachers and government workers.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, commonly known as the PSEA, represents approximately 180,000 Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers throughout Pennsylvania.

Two other public sector unions that represent workers at the Department of Labor and Industry, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection are the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, commonly known as AFSCME, and the Service Employees International Union, commonly known as the SEIU union. 

The PSEA represents approximately 180,000 K-12 school teachers in Pennsylvania. Each teacher pays approximately $800 per year in union dues to the PSEA.

Therefore on an annual basis, the PSEA collects approximately $144 million from 180,000 school teachers.

It is hard to know exactly how much of the $144 million is used for political purposes in Harrisburg and how much is used for bargaining and representation of the teachers.

I have seen first-hand the amount of money spent on political contributions to House and Senate members in Harrisburg and the amount spent on lobbying.

Penn Live reported in May of 2016 that $500 Million Dollars was spent on lobbying in 2015. Click here for the article: http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2016/05/monday_morning_coffee_lobbyist.html

The PSEA is the most powerful union in Harrisburg and to collect approximately $144 Million Dollars per year in dues makes the PSEA a very large enterprise.

At PSEA headquarters in Harrisburg there are several hundred employees that are paid by the teacher dues collected. 

 The best way to describe the PSEA’s headquarter in Harrisburg would be to say that this is where the PSEA Union Bosses have their offices.

There are many great teachers throughout Pennsylvania who do an excellent job of teaching our children and would rather not be a member of the PSEA, but they do not have a choice, and if they had the choice a large majority of teachers would elect not to pay dues to the PSEA.

The PSEA is also a member of the National Education Association commonly known as the NEA, and the PSEA pays dues to the NEA.

The NEA is based in Washington D.C. and had a budget of more than $341 million for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

The operation of the PSEA and the NEA are large enterprises; just think that there are 49 other states in America that have teachers unions also that collect dues from their members.

It would be safe to say that teachers in schools throughout America pay several billion dollars in dues combined to teachers unions. 

Teachers unions have become big businesses and yield extreme power over their members and in the states they operate.

Some quick research reveals that the NEA actually is very clear that they represent teachers and do not represent the children because the children do not pay dues.

 Click here for three articles:

 http://dailysignal.com/2011/07/02/nea-convention-reminds-us-it%E2%80%99s-about-union-power-not-children/

 http://nation.foxnews.com/culture/2011/02/23/teachers-union-big-wig-says-its-not-about-kids-its-about-power

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/06/the-failure-of-american-schools/308497/

 In the above articles, NEA officials actually make statements – “It’s Not About Kids, It’s About Power” and “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

These are very powerful statements that make it crystal clear that union bosses at state levels and the national level are in the game for power and money, and not the children.

It is unfortunate because a large majority of the school teachers in Pennsylvania do care about their students and would drop out of the PSEA if they had a choice but they don’t have that choice because of the power of the PSEA.

The PSEA  uses teacher dues collected to fight every effort that would result in solving the pension crisis and any initiative to eliminate school taxes on real estate in Pennsylvania.

In order for the teachers in Pennsylvania to stop being represented by the PSEA, it would require a decertification effort, initiated by a single teacher or group of teachers, but the PSEA will never let that happen, because the PSEA is all about power and money. 

Sen. Wagner represents the 28th District in the Pennsylvania Senate.

PSEA Corrupts Pennsylvania, Teachers Would Quit It If Able

Ghost Teachers Unnecessary Tax Burden

Ghost Teachers Unnecessary Tax Burden

By Leo Knepper

The Commonwealth Foundation undertook the monumental task of acquiring and analyzing teachers’ union contracts from 499 school districts. Their main findings were shocking, but not surprising. Two of items that caught our attention were the prevalence of release time provisions and the “generosity” of healthcare benefits.

Ghost Teachers Unnecessary Tax BurdenRelease time or “ghost teacher” provisions force taxpayers to foot the bill for union activities. Roughly 20 percent of contracts across the state allow for a full release. These teachers don’t set foot in the classroom at all. Instead, they are on the district payroll and can collect a variety of benefits while they work for the union. One of the most expensive benefits that ghost teachers had received, until recently, was a taxpayer funded pension.

On the issue of health insurance benefits, in 99 districts taxpayers foot the entire bill. The workers covered under the teachers’ union contracts don’t pay anything for their premiums. In instances where teachers are required to pay toward their premium costs, they pay far less than the Pennsylvania average of $3,598 per person.

A full summary of the Commonwealth Foundation’s findings can be found on their website; the district-by-district contract details can be found here.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Ghost Teachers Unnecessary Tax Burden

Ghost Teachers Lose, Taxpayers Win

Ghost Teachers Lose, Taxpayers Win

By Leo Knepper

It is fairly common and legal in Pennsylvania for teachers to engage in union activity while continuing to collect their teaching salary. The practice, officially known as “release time”, is written into union contracts all over the commonwealth. In addition to receiving a taxpayer-funded salary, these ghost teachers were also accruing time in the Pennsylvania School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS). In other words, some union officials who had not set foot in a classroom for years were increasing the value of their pension at taxpayers’ expense. That arrangement may finally be coming to an end. Ghost Teachers Lose, Taxpayers Win

In late June, PSERS revoked the pension credit accumulated by a ghost teacher in Allentown. Furthermore, PSERS ruled that the past two union heads had accrued more than $1 million in pension benefits illegally. An article published by Watchdog.org details PSERS findings:

“PSERS concluded, ‘an active member is permitted to receive retirement credit while working for a collective bargaining organization provided: (1) at least half the members of the organization are members of PSERS; (2) the employer approves the leave; (3) the collective bargaining organization reimburses the employer for the member’s salary and benefits; (4) the member works full-time; and (5) the employer reports only the salary the member would have earned as a school employee.'”

PSERS’s ruling is great news for taxpayers. Teachers who are working exclusively for the union have no business being paid by taxpayers or collecting a taxpayer funded pension. The union is appealing the decision; we will let you know what ultimately happens.

Ghost Teachers Lose, Taxpayers Win

Pro Teacher Bill Vetoed By Wolf

Pro Teacher Bill Vetoed By Wolf

By Scott Wagner Pro Teacher Bill Vetoed By Wolf

Governor Wolf continues to resist any reforms that would change the Pennsylvania education system.

This past Wednesday, Governor Wolf vetoed legislation designed to keep the best teachers in Pennsylvania’s classrooms and boost student achievement by ending the practice of seniority-based layoffs.

In Pennsylvania, teacher layoffs are conducted in order of inverse seniority.

The last teacher hired is the first person fired, regardless of job performance.

Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that require seniority to be the sole factor in determining layoffs.

With the Governor’s action, our Commonwealth will continue this backward approach.

House Bill 805, known as the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act, would have ensured that school districts use teacher performance to guide furlough and reinstatement decisions.

Performance ratings would have been based on the comprehensive statewide educator evaluation system adopted in 2012, under which observed educators are assigned a rating of distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or failing.

House Bill 805 prohibited school districts from using a teacher’s pay and benefits as determining factors for any layoff decision.

I co-sponsored the Senate version of this measure because a child’s education matters more than union tradition.

Governor Wolf’s refusal to enact pension reform means there will be more teacher furloughs in the future, as school districts trim personnel costs to balance their budgets.

And his refusal to sign House Bill 805 means some of our most dedicated, energetic teachers will continue to be the ones losing their jobs.

Not a surprise to anyone, the PSEA – Pennsylvania State Education Association – the teachers’ union, was out lobbying against this bill in full force when the House and Senate voted on this important piece of legislation.

It is clear that Governor Wolf and his public sector union friends at the PSEA have formed a unified partnership to snuff out any positive developments for the children in our schools and the taxpayers that pay for the education system.

Sen. Wagner represents the 28th District in the Pennsylvania Senate.

Pro Teacher Bill Vetoed By Wolf