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OSBORNE: Blame the Union, Free the Schools

The commonwealth’s largest teachers union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), recently induced yet another local union into “authorizing” a strike, this time in Indiana County’s Penns Manor Area School District. It was typical performance art for teachers unions in Pennsylvania, where government union executives seem more interested in keeping and displaying power than doing their job.

Pennsylvania leads the country in teacher strikes—and it’s not a close race. A Commonwealth Foundation study counted 131 strikes over a 19-year period (1999–2018), which resulted in 1,383 missed school days and affected some 300,000 students. The progressive magazine Mother Jones reported that from 1968 to 2012, nearly 90 percent of all teacher strikes happened here in Pennsylvania.

Nearly every one of these strikes followed a strike authorization vote, last-minute bargaining sessions, staged outrage from local teachers unions, and ridiculous studies about how school closures don’t hurt kids academically.

This whole ritual sidelines the families involved. Kids lose out on learning, and parents must upend work schedules to accommodate strike-related school closures. And many in the local community—perhaps up to 45 percent, according to the most recent polling—do not support teachers when they strike. That’s bad for teachers. And it’s terrible for the community.

So how does the PSEA goad teachers into self-destructive strikes?

The PSEA assigns just a few teachers to the contract talks with the school district, and they’re all sworn to secrecy. The preeminent figure in these negotiations is a PSEA employee called a “UniServ Representative,” not a local teacher. The typical UniServ Rep is paid at least $120,000 and ensures negotiations are good for the PSEA—and only coincidentally for local teachers. For example, in the midst of another PSEA strike authorization earlier this year, the PSEA used precious bargaining capital to push one of its statewide priorities: Inserting new language giving the union the right to force a “fee” from teachers who aren’t union members, if and when it ever becomes legal to do so.

Most teachers learn only what the PSEA wants them to know and little to nothing about what the school board offered or was willing to discuss along the way.

The PSEA then asks teachers to “authorize” a strike. Union officials explain to teachers that it won’t actually strike (yet) and that the vote is typical saber-rattling, giving them better leverage in negotiations. After all, they tell teachers, the union has been through this countless times.

What they don’t tell teachers is that the PSEA won’t be back to ask anyone for permission before calling a “legal” strike.

And by that time, it’s too late for union members legally bound by union rules not to walk the picket line. Although teachers rarely miss any pay as a result of a strike, they don’t get paid extra to strike and then catch up on classwork.

The answer here is not just to prohibit teacher strikes—illegal teacher strikes still happen—but to ensure teachers and parents have more options.

For teachers, that means being able to leave the union at any time, but especially as a strike looms. Rep. Greg Rothman introduced such a bill last year, and it received overwhelmingly positive feedback in legislative hearings.

And for parents, it means they should be able to send their children to schools where self-interested union executives cannot push teachers to strike. Expanding Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarships or adopting the Lifeline Scholarship Program embraced by Governor-elect Josh Shapiro would go a long way toward solving our teacher strike problem.

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ROSICA: Who is Shapiro Really Fighting For?

“Throughout his career, Josh has taken on the status quo, brought people together, and fought to keep Pennsylvanians from getting screwed — and that’s exactly what he’ll do as Governor.”

According to his website, Josh Shapiro claims he fought to prevent Pennsylvanians from getting screwed. Whatever you think of his choice of words, let’s think about what that means. How many people suffered during the lockdowns and school closures? How many children failed school, dropped out, and/or committed suicide? How many businesses were forced to close and never reopen due to the current Administration’s failed policies? The numbers are staggering. Shapiro’s definition of “getting screwed” is as off base as his major flip on Gov. Tom Wolf’s response to COVID-19.

As attorney general, Shapiro did not oppose Wolf’s mandates, lockdowns, or closures; and he never spoke out against these policies. That is, until recently. Now, his current story is that the administration in which he played a vital role did not need to enact the mandates and closures.

As attorney general, why did he not push back on the governor rather than actively defending him? As an attorney, he could — and should — have provided guidance and recommendations to the Governor.  Either Shapiro’s advice was not heeded, in which case, he should state that publicly, or Shapiro did not advise the Governor correctly.  Shapiro’s lack of leadership and incompetence led to a Constitutional amendment limiting the power of the Governor and a State Supreme Court decision overturning Wolf’s school mask mandate as unconstitutional. How did Shapiro defend his constituents from this government overreach? Shapiro failed in both preventing Pennsylvanians from getting screwed, and he also failed to advise the Governor and the rest of the administration correctly.

Today, Shapiro states that he does not support mandates, lockdowns, or closures.  He also states that he supports school choice and supports public education, an interesting dichotomy. Shapiro has been supported by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) for almost a decade. In this election cycle, he has received $525,000 from PSEA (his tenth highest overall donation thus far) and $250,000 from the National Education Association.

He is endorsed by both groups who are very much anti-school choice. In a  press release in April prior to Shapiro stating his new position, the PSEA said of House Bill 2169 that “it’s hard to imagine a worse voucher plan than this one.” This is the same legislation that Shapiro has vowed to support on his website: “Josh favors adding choices for parents and educational opportunity for students and funding lifeline scholarships like those approved in other states and introduced in Pennsylvania.”

Supported and endorsed by groups who vehemently oppose school choice, will he hold to his current, newfound position?  Why not?  His own children attend an expensive private school — the same one that he attended as a student — costing between $30 and $37k annually.

Shapiro states that he supports both public education and school choice and that he will not take money from public schools to support choice. What does that plan look like? And if he really supports public schools, why do his own children attend an expensive private school? Once again, Shapiro’s decisions are inconsistent with his words.

On election day, can we trust that the recent Shapiro positions will be the ones he sticks with, or will his allegiance to the teachers’ unions that openly endorse and financially support him win out?

Given that Shapiro has been financially supported by the PSEA since at least 2016 in his run for attorney general, it stands to reason that he will back the union and their positions most of the time. That is what Wolf did when he mandated masks for all K-12 students in the Fall of 2021 — because that is what the PSEA wanted and demanded of him.

Will Shapiro really be any different?

With election day only weeks away, it is incredibly convenient and highly suspect for Shapiro’s platform to take an almost 180-degree turn. Now his position is that the state needed to educate and empower people to make the best decisions for themselves. Where was that attitude over two years ago when Wolf closed schools and businesses and eventually mandated masks for all students? Now he supports school choice and the Lifeline Scholarship legislation when one of his largest and politically active donors is vehemently against it.

Can we trust Shapiro to live up to his newly articulated campaign promises or will he be responsible for ensuring that Pennsylvanians are screwed over for another four years?

This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.