Union Hates Charter Schools, Parents Love Them

Union Hates Charter Schools, Parents Love Them

By Leo Knepper

Public charter schools empower parents by giving them options for their children’s education. Because most charter school teachers decide against forming a union and provide competition for traditional public schools, teachers’ unions and their allies have made charter schools into a boogeyman. Since becoming Governor, Tom Wolf has been openly hostile to charter schools and attempted to reduce their funding at every turn.

Union Hates Charter Schools, Parents Love Them

On last week’s CAPitalist Cast, which you can find below, CAP CEO Leo Knepper had a chance to talk with Lenny McAllister about how charter schools are funded and how they’ve handled the challenges created by COVID 19. Mr. McAllister is the CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. It was a fantastic opportunity to explore the role these schools play in educating the next generation of Pennsylvanians.

Mr. McAllister has written several opinion columns recently. We found some of the information they included fascinating. Below are excerpts and links to the articles. 

The first article from Mr. McAllister, co-authored by Amber Northern and published by the Daily Signal, details the funding myths pedaled by teachers’ unions and their political allies (emphasis added):

“Contrary to charter critics’ preferred narrative, total revenues per pupil increased in most states as the percentage of local students who enrolled in charter schools rose…Simply put, charter schools in Pennsylvania receive less money than district schools. For example, a recent study estimated that Pennsylvania charter schools received $12,175 per pupil, while traditional public schools would have received $17,989 for those same students

“According to University of Arkansas researchers, “The state funding formula for charter schools begins with the same amount of funding as a charter school’s home district, but then subtracts up to 21 categories of prior-year district expenditures,” resulting in a funding disparity that favors districts.

“In other words, the host districts get to keep the subtracted funds…districts were actually being paid more to educate fewer students.” 

On the subject of cyber-charters from GoErie (emphasis added):

A report showed that roughly one-fourth of the third through eighth grade cohort, including a disproportionate number of socioeconomically challenged students, did not take specific annual academic assessments.

In Pennsylvania, these issues have cropped up for months in school districts despite district officials telling lawmakers for years that they could provide online academic instruction better and cheaper than public cyber charter schools. The pandemic has proven otherwise — here at home and around America.

“In contrast, public cyber charter families didn’t miss a beat.

Pennsylvania’s cyber charters have been teaching online for more than 20 years. These schools know how to use technology to educate large numbers of students at home. As a result, thousands of families exercised their right under Pennsylvania law to choose a public cyber charter school for their children...The “blame game” has ramped up from school district officials and education unions. They complain that their money is lost to public charter schools — especially cyber charter schools. However, it’s not their money. It’s state funding allocated for education in Pennsylvania, regardless of where a student attends a public school.

Public charter schools are public schools – just like those in local school districts, but simply operating at roughly three-fourths of the cost.

On the importance of school choice to ensuring racial equality, from USA Today:

“Families who have chosen to enroll their children in public charter schools deserve to know with certainty that the new [Biden] administration understands, values and supports their choice. These 7,500 unique public schools educate about 3.3 million children across the USA, mostly from Black and brown families.

“These children have the ability to thrive in innovative public schools that best suit their needs for life, with teachers who look more like them and curriculum that is malleable to fit diverse backgrounds and learning preferences. These schools are effective at teaching our nation’s nuanced history and developing students not only with strong academic foundations but also with self-esteem and civic awareness.”

The USA Today article also profiles three outstanding examples of Black educators working to improve educational opportunities in the communities.

The best way to counter Governor Wolf’s narrative about education funding is to be armed with the facts.

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

Union Hates Charter Schools, Parents Love Them

Protecting Livelihoods On Ballot May 18 In Pa

Protecting Livelihoods On Ballot May 18 In Pa

By Leo Knepper

Over the last year, Pennsylvanians have seen how unchecked power can impact every aspect of their daily lives. On May 18, voters will have an opportunity to ensure that checks and balances are added to the emergency declaration process. The primary election ballot will include two proposed constitutional amendments that will help protect lives and livelihoods in the future. 

Protecting Livelihoods On Ballot May 18 In Pa

The Department of State, controlled by the Governor, has done its best to make the proposed amendments as incomprehensible as possible in an attempt to confuse voters. In simple English, the proposed amendments are asking voters to answer two questions. First, should disaster emergencies declared by the Governor be limited to 21 days unless the General Assembly approves an extension? Second, should a majority of the House and Senate be able to vote to end a declared disaster emergency?

By voting “YES” on the proposed amendments, Pennsylvanianians will be restoring checks and balances to the emergency declaration process. Voters will also ensure that future governors can protect lives in a disaster but will have to work with the legislature to address longer-term problems. These proposed changes will also ensure that future Governors must be able to justify the decisions they are making in the name of safety.

Governor Wolf has shut down businesses and entire industries at random under his authority to declare a state of emergency. He claimed that his administration would “follow the science” to develop policies. Data obtained by the Commonwealth Partners clearly shows that that wasn’t the case. For example, only 2.6% of COVID positive patients said they attended or worked at a Pre-K or K-12 grade school in the 14 days before testing positive for the virus. Yet, many schools still are not holding in-person classes. 

On livelihoods, fewer than 3% of individuals reported visiting a restaurant in the 14 days before showing COVID-19 symptomsYet, Governor Wolf had issued drastic reductions in occupation limits and shut down indoor dining entirely on two separate occasions. 

Many locally-owned bars and restaurants have shut their doors forever due to the Governor’s go-it-alone approach, and countless children have suffered severe disruptions to their education. By voting yes to the proposed amendments on May 18th, Pennsylvanians will ensure that local communities, small businesses, and our children’s education will be protected in the future.

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

Protecting Livelihoods On Ballot May 18 In Pa

Government Cares Not For Your Thoughts

Government Cares Not For Your Thoughts

By Leo Knepper

In recent polling, the Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of Americans believe that government officials DO NOT care about what they think. The vast majority of people that we hear from share that belief. The public points to outrageous salaries, healthcare paid for by taxpayers, and a revolving door between elected officials, lobbying jobs, and appointments to lucrative government jobs.

Government Cares Not For Your Thoughts

Pennsylvania is famous or infamous depending on your perspective regarding politicians “taking care of” friends and family at taxpayer expense. Most Boards and Authorities created by the legislature include seats to be filled by the “leadership” of the House, Senate, and the Governor. Many of those seats come with a high salary and little observable work. One example of a Board packed with former lawmakers is the PA Gaming Control Board (GCB). 

Of the seven Board members, three are former lawmakers. One of those lawmakers is former-Representative Frank Dermody (D-33), who lost his reelection bid in November. The fact that his salary went up to $145,000 probably gives Dermody some consolation. Former lawmakers aren’t the only ones to benefit from spots on the GCB.

Last week, we learned that Jake Corman (R-34), President pro tempore of the Senate, named Frances Regan to the GCB. Mrs. Regan is the wife of Senator Mike Regan (R-31). Between his Senate salary and her GCB salary, the Regan’s are now collecting over a quarter-million dollars per year in government salaries. When you consider that lawmakers only pay 2 percent of their annual salary for medical coverage, it paints an even worse picture. And, according to a 2019 news story, Senator Regan stayed in the lucrative legislative pension program (which is underfunded by $78 billion) instead of opting into a 401-k type plan. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Regan will also be collecting two federal pensions on top of everything else due to their time working for the federal government. At what point is enough taxpayer money enough?

How likely is that out of 12 million Pennsylvanians, Mrs. Regan was the most qualified person in the state? It certainly looks like this is another case of politicians taking care of themselves and their friends at taxpayers’ expense.

Is it any wonder that the public believes that elected officials are only in it for themselves? With numbers like these, it’s hard to argue anything else in this case.

Government Cares Not For Your Thoughts

Wolf Income Tax Hike Would Reward The Corrupt

Wolf Income Tax Hike Would Reward The Corrupt

By Leo Knepper

Every year Pennsylvania’s Governor presents a “budget proposal” to the General Assembly. Governor Wolf’s budget addresses have typically included items that would be harmful to Pennsylvanians. For example, Wolf has requested a new extraction tax on natural gas producers every year. And every year, the General Assembly declines. They point to the impact fee that generates millions of dollars per year for the Treasury to justify their correct decision.

Wolf Income Tax Hike Would Reward The Corrupt
Worst governor? Tough competition but in the running.

Governor Wolf decided that simply recycling his standard bad ideas just wouldn’t cut it this year. Instead, he added a request for a massive personal income-tax increase. How large of a tax increase does he want? The Governor is asking the General Assembly to increase the personal income tax rate by 46 percent. He notes that Pennsylvania has a “structural deficit” and that his tax increase would increase education funding. (See, he’s doing it for the kids.)

Governor Wolf didn’t mention that the structural deficit was caused by chronic overspending by the General Assembly. Nor did he say that he made it worse due to his unilateral decision to shut down vast swaths of the Pennsylvania economy last year. It must have surprised him to learn that shuttered businesses wouldn’t provide the same level of tax payments as open ones. As a side note on educational funding, Pennsylvania spends over $20,000 per year per pupil and ranks ninth in the country for per-pupil spending.

The Governor also included a call for increasing Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. We doubt that he has considered how many of the businesses who survived his shutdown can now afford higher labor costs.

It’s doubtful that the Republican-controlled General Assembly will go along with either proposal. It’s hard to rule it out entirely, though. Remember that Pennsylvania now has one of the country’s highest gasoline taxes thanks to a Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, and Republicans in the General Assembly. However, we don’t anticipate either the House or the Senate going along with much of Governor Wolf’s budget proposal. We’ll keep you informed as the budget process moves forward over the next few months.

For a more in-depth examination of the Governor’s budget proposal, watch the video below. CAP CEO Leo Knepper sat down with Carl Marrara, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association, to discuss the Governor’s budget address and its impact on the Commonwealth’s economy.

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

Wolf Income Tax Hike Would Reward The Corrupt

Disaster Powers Limited By Amendments On May Ballot

Disaster Powers Limited By Amendments On May Ballot

By Leo Knepper

Last week the House and Senate each passed versions of a joint resolution to amend the Pennsylvania constitution. The House is expected to pass the Senate version this week and that will be a first step toward taking back PA. The proposed amendments aim to ensure that Governor Wolf and future Governors cannot abuse emergency declarations and govern unilaterally. To understand the importance of the proposed amendments, we should look at the current law and what transpired during the COVID-19 shutdown.

According to the PA Emergency Services Management Code, the Governor can declare a disaster emergency. That declaration can last up to 90 days. If, after 90 days, the disaster still exists, the Governor can renew the declaration as often as s/he sees fit until the disaster is over. There is a provision in the law indicating that the General Assembly can end the declaration via a concurrent resolution, and the Governor “shall” terminate the declaration; here is where things broke down.

In June, the General Assembly passed the concurrent resolution to end the disaster declaration. Governor Wolf argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the Governor could veto the resolution and keep the disaster declaration in place. That decision dramatically shifted the balance of power in favor of the Governor. The amendments under consideration correct that imbalance.

If adopted, the amendments would do two things. First, the disaster declarations would be limited to 21 days and require the General Assembly’s approval if the Governor wants to extend it. The second proposed change would clarify that the Governor cannot veto resolutions ending a disaster declaration.

Voters will decide in May whether or not to adopt the constitutional amendments. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Governor and most Democrats are opposed to these changes. Governor Wolf and his allies will likely spend millions of dollars in the lead up to May’s vote to defeat the proposals.

We have an opportunity to ensure that no future Governor can indefinitely shut down the economy again.

Mr. Knepper is executive director of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania. Visit here to donate to the CAP.

Disaster Powers Limited By Amendments On May Ballot
Disaster Powers Limited By Amendments On May Ballot

Pennsylvania Constitutional Amendments Considered

Pennsylvania Constitutional Amendments Considered — Leo Knepper of Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania sent us the below discussion of proposed state constitutional amendments. They are aimed at limiting the use of emergency declarations by the governor and replacing state-wide elections of judges to the Supreme, Commonwealth and Superior courts, with election by district. This would weaken the power the corrupt Philadelphia and Pittsburgh machines have over the judiciary.

They are desperately needed as the governor and the state courts behaved more like those of a banana republic in the last year rather than one that respects rights.

Frankly, the entire Constitution should be rewritten.

“Full time” legislators ought to be replaced by part-time ones compensated solely by per diem with a term of no more than 20 days. Legislative districts should no longer be allowed to include a partial county. More than one county, yes. Partial counties no.

Pennsylvania Constitutional Amendments Considered
Pennsylvania Constitutional Amendments Considered

Wolf Expresses Half Right Ideas

Wolf Expresses Half Right Ideas

By Leo Knepper

With all of the chaos of the Iowa Caucuses, the Senate wrapping up its impeachment proceedings, and the State of the Union address, you might have missed Governor Wolf’s budget address last week. The budget address is similar to the State of the Union; it is mostly a piece of political theater.

In the speech, the Governor lays out the administration’s policy vision for the next year. Governor Wolf’s budget addresses have primarily contained the same bad ideas and half-truths every year. This year was no exception. The Governor is still insisting that the natural gas industry isn’t paying their “fair share.” It’s worth noting that the impact fee paid by the natural gas industry will likely generate close to $200 million in 2020, a decrease from 2019’s record-breaking numbers (due to lower natural gas prices). Governor Wolf also wants to reduce school choice options, increase the minimum wage, and increase public assistance in covering the cost of childcare. Ironically, raising minimum wage costs will have a ripple effect and make childcare even more expensive, and that would probably require even higher levels of public assistance.

In the midst of all of the terrible ideas, Governor Wolf did touch on two policy requests that he got at least half-right. First, Wolf suggested that Pennsylvania lower its corporate net income (CNI) tax rate. The Commonwealth has the second-highest CNI in the country, and it is often cited as a reason why businesses don’t locate or expand in Pennsylvania. He paired the tax rate reduction with some complicated changes to the tax code, called combined reporting that will make it more burdensome for businesses to file their taxes and end up increasing their tax bills in the state.

He requested the combined reporting change to make up for “lost revenue” from the lower tax rate. A better way to pay for the reduction in the tax rate is to eliminate the corporate welfare and targeted tax breaks offered by the Commonwealth to politically connected firms. This would create a level playing field and improve the overall business environment. Over time, a better climate would encourage new businesses and business expansion, and that would generate even more revenue for the treasury.

The Governor’s other good idea was tapping into the $250 million Race Horse Development Fund. The fund, replenished annually, is derived from Pennsylvania’s casinos and subsidizes the horse racing industry. One notable beneficiary was the multi-billionaire, Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates. There are quite a few other items that should have priority over subsidizing the sport of kings.

Governor Wolf is proposing to use the funds from the Race Horse Development Fund to create grants for students attending Pennsylvania’s state universities. Decreasing the cost of education is laudable, but a complete overhaul of the state’s universities would accomplish the same goal. And, while we’re at it, the universities should probably look at what percentage of the students’ tuition is going to education versus what is spent on administration and empire-building through the construction of new buildings, etc.

The House and Senate will be conducting budget hearings for the next couple of months. We will be sure to keep our readers informed of any notable developments.

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

Wolf Expresses Half Right Ideas
Wolf Expresses Half Right Ideas

Lawmaker Leaving With $120K Pension

Lawmaker Leaving With $120K Pension

By Leo Knepper

Heading into the election season, 14 Pennsylvania lawmakers, so far, have announced that they will be retiring at the end of their term in December. It is worth noting that for one of them, their annual pension payment will exceed their current salary by roughly $30,000.

Lawmaker Leaving With $120K Pension
Fat and happy politics doth make

By our calculations, Representative Thomas R. Caltagirone will be walking out the door with an annual pension payment of roughly $120,000. In addition to this golden parachute, he will also receive lifetime health insurance benefits “generously” subsidized by taxpayers. With only limited exceptions, private-sector employees are offered a defined-contribution retirement plan, such as a 401(k). On average, they can expect to retire with a nest egg that provides them with 50 to 75 percent of their final salary. 

Why do Harrisburg’s politicians remain such a costly anomaly? Because they determine their own salary and benefits. In the Pension Grab of 2001, Caltagirone voted to increase his pension by 50 percent. This pension increase, signed into law by Governor Ridge, is one of the primary reasons the Commonwealth’s pension system is in dire financial condition. (For a list of all of the lawmakers who voted for the pension hike, see this blog post on our website.)

Rep. Caltagirone is the only member of the Golden Parachute Club, i.e., lawmakers whose pensions will equal or exceed their current salary, to announce his retirement so far this year. Getting to the Golden Parachute level requires lawmakers to “serve” in the legislature for 35 years or more and be enrolled in the pre-2017 pension program.

According to our research, the other members of the Golden Parachute Club are Representatives Bob Freeman (D-Bethlehem) and Tony DeLuca (D-Pittsburgh). Senator David Argall (R-Lake Hauto) will be joining the Club in November of 2020, provided he remains in office, and there are all indications that he will be sticking around.

There is no limit to how large the legislators’ defined-benefit pension can grow, so long as they stay in office. The Golden Parachute is the most corrupting influence on members of the General Assembly. It makes them prioritize their re-election above everything else, even the well-being of their constituents and the financial health of the Commonwealth

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

Lawmaker Leaving With $120K Pension

Wolf Plot Hikes Energy Costs For Working People

Wolf Plot Hikes Energy Costs For Working People

By Leo Knepper

Back in January, we shared a Guest Post with our readers on the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). The author, Lowman Henry, noted:

“[T]he Wolf Administration has entered into an agreement with nine other mostly northeastern states to cap each of the states’ carbon emissions from transportation (your car). The states have one year to come up with a plan. Such plans will most certainly include additional taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel…the money will be “redistributed” to “low carbon transportation systems” – in other words urban mass transit…Thus the lofty sounding Transportation and Climate Initiative allows Governor Wolf to advance two of his top agenda items: establish a new revenue stream to keep urban mass transit afloat and penalize users of carbon-based fuels. Keep in mind, those users include you every time you start your car or use a product that was delivered to the store by motor vehicle, which is to say everything.” (Emphasis added)

Wolf Plot Hikes Energy Costs For Working People
Rich and Indifferent

The TCI plan was released on Dec. 17, and it is everything we feared it would be. The Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, CAP, has joined with allies from across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in voicing our opposition to this plan. We noted in a joint letter:

“Legislators should not allow one citizen of a state — the governor — to impose such serious financial burdens on all other citizens. Such a decision rightfully belongs to the people’s representatives and should be reached through the legislative process, not by the decree of a single executive. “The TCI is a poorly conceived, fundamentally regressive, and economically damaging proposal.”

Pennsylvania already has one of the highest gas taxes in the country. According to TCI’s own estimates carbon emissions will decrease by 19 percent from 2022-2032. They don’t think that’s good enough. Instead, the TCI is advocating a new gas tax ranging from five to seventeen cents per gallon in order to reduce emissions by only an additional one to six percent. The mere fact that Governor Wolf would consider increasing the tax yet again is appalling. The question now is whether or not the legislature will take substantive action to reclaim its power of the purse to combat the measure.

Wolf Plot Hikes Energy Costs For Working People

Pennsylvania Legislative Salaries Hit $90,300 Not Including Benefits

Pennsylvania Legislative Salaries Hit $90,300 (and this doesn’t include benefits).

By Leo Knepper

As of Dec. 1, the base salary for Pennsylvania lawmakers will increase to $90,300 per year. This pay raise comes as the result of an annual cost-of-living-increase (COLA) they receive automatically. The higher salary will be on top of any per diems, health insurance, etc. that lawmakers are eligible to receive.  

As an aside, lawmakers pay only one percent per year of their salary for health benefits. In other words, their annual premium is roughly $900 for health insurance that is second to none. There are many taxpayers whose monthly insurance bill exceeds that amount.

The $90,300 salary is the minimum for members of the General Assembly. As noted by the Associated Press:

“Lawmakers in leadership posts will top out at $141,000 for House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson. The four caucus floor leaders in the House and Senate will each make almost 130,900 while the four caucus whips and the four Appropriations Committee chairs will receive $121,100.”

The salary differences between rank and file members and “leadership” are especially noteworthy. It presents another clear example of how our beloved judicial branch ignores the plain text of the Pennsylvania Constitution. According to Article II, Section 8, “The members of the General Assembly shall receive such salary and mileage for regular and special sessions as shall be fixed by law, and no other compensation whatever, whether for service upon committee or otherwise.” (Emphasis added)

Members of the General Assembly aren’t the only ones who will benefit from taxpayers’ forced generosity in the new year. When January rolls around, members of the executive branch will also see an increase in their pay. Governor Wolf’s salary will increase to over $200,000 per year. The Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Tom Saylor, will make over $220,000 per year.

Many lawmakers will, if they haven’t already, make a show of donating their salary increase to a charity. It is a standard public relations move on their part, and has become as regular as the leaves changing colors. However, despite their righteous indignation, there is never any real interest in eliminating the automatic COLA by changing the law. Finally, for any lawmakers in the defined benefit pension plan, the higher annual salary, regardless of charitable contributions, will be used to calculate their pension benefits upon retirement.

Unlike members of the General Assembly, CAP can’t force anyone to pay for projects we want to undertake. Next year is going to be incredibly busy for us. If you value what CAP does and would like to help us continue holding Harrisburg accountable, please consider making a financial contribution to our efforts.

Pennsylvania Legislative Salaries Hit $90,300 (And This Doesn’t Include Benefits)
Pennsylvania Legislative Salaries Hit $90,300 (and this doesn't include benefits).