Teacher Appreciation Week is a Pathetic Joke!

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It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, America!

All over the country, millions of educators can look forward to a free burrito. Or maybe an Arby’s sandwich. Or a complimentary donut.

Because we REALLY appreciate teachers here.

What a pathetic joke!

I don’t mean to seem ungrateful.

I’ll redeem my coupon at Chipotle. I’ll take that Roast Beef Classic. I’ll grab that Dunkin’ Cruller.

But let’s be honest. These cheesy buy-one-get-one coupons don’t demonstrate appreciation. They’re guilt.

They’re a manifestation of the feeling that we SHOULD appreciate teachers, but don’t. Not really.

Not for one week, not for one day!

Why else would we begrudge them a middle class income? Why else would we provide them with so few resources and so much responsibility? Why else would we bar them from making any meaningful decisions about how their students should be taught yet hold them accountable for everything their students do?

Appreciate teachers? We don’t LISTEN to them. We don’t RESPECT them. Many of us don’t even LIKE them.

The only time we value teachers is when a maniac enters a school with a gun. Then – when they protect our children with their very lives – then we praise them as heroes!

On that day and that day only. But every other day – not so much.

We won’t do anything to keep guns out of the hands of school shooters. At most we want to arm teachersGreat! Something else to be responsible for on top of education, counseling and children’s all around well-being. But otherwise, we won’t do anything to help teachers do their jobs. And we certainly won’t listen to their professional opinions on anything!

That would be living in a culture of life. But we live in a culture of death.

We do the barest minimum for children – especially poor and minority kids. Instead we invest in parasitic business interests that provide zero value for students and parents.

We’ve got nothing for teachers or proven educational practices but we throw public money at charter, private and parochial schools that only accept the cream of the crop and turn down everyone else – yet still rarely do better than inclusive public schools. We defund public schools until they can no longer operate – and then we close them as failures. We promote lightly trained Teach for America temps to the same status as authentic educators with a 4-5 year degree and decades of experience. And we do everything we can to bust their unions and take away collective bargaining rights.

Yet everywhere I look I see people congratulating themselves for donating to some teacher’s GoFundMe project. This may come as a shock to you, but we shouldn’t be resorting to charity to fund our public schools! That should be a given!

In almost every classroom in America, teachers reach into their own pockets to make up the difference when our federal, state and local governments come up short. When kids don’t have pencils, we provide them. When kids don’t have books, we buy them. When kids come to school hungry, we even feed them.

Yet you’re getting excited that anonymous folks on the Internet put a few virtual coins in the cup!

I’ve been a public school teacher for almost 15 years. Next year I can look forward to another increase in class size. And I’ll probably have to teach an additional grade level or two. No extra resources to help me do it. No extra salary. Just more of a drain on my time to get the job done. And if I somehow stumble and fall, it will be my fault.

It won’t be the federal government’s fault even though they keep providing less financial help and more standardized testing, Common Core, and so-called school choice policies that rob my district of necessary funding.

It won’t be the state’s fault as they refuse to heal years worth of budget cuts in order to lower taxes on the wealthy, a scheme that, by the way, did nothing to boost the economy – in fact, it actually stalled business development. Nor will it be the state’s fault as they continue to blame me for the high cost of pensions they forgot to pay years ago while both my district and I paid on time. Nor will it be the state’s fault as they try to strip me of sick days, preserve loopholes that benefit charter schools at my district’s expense and experiment with a new funding scheme that further drains my district’s coffers.

It won’t be my local school board or administration’s fault, either, as they make cuts to core educational resources so they can preserve the state champion football team and less vital faculty office and administrative staff who are only working there because of nepotism and/or politics.

It’ll be MY fault. Mine and mine alone. That’s how much we appreciate teachers.

And none of it is even close to changing. No one is even considering altering the tiniest fraction of it. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, men, women, black people, white people, gay people, straight people, the young, the old – no one is doing anything about it!

And why should we? We’ve already got a scapegoat. We’ve already got someone to blame.

Well, look in the mirror, America. Because you’re the one to blame – each and every star-spangled banner and amber wave of grain.

We’ve made it like this. All of us.

I don’t mean to be so negative, but all these Pollyanna platitudes about that one special teacher obscure a basic truth. As individuals, we sometimes appreciate teachers – often when we’re years beyond graduation, or sometimes only when we’re parents, ourselves, and see what they do for our children. But that’s personal. That’s individuals.

When we think about the nations teachers, when we think about the profession in general, we don’t appreciate them one bit.
Because if we did, we’d act much differently.

If we really appreciated teachers, we’d hire more of them. We wouldn’t demand they do more with less. When we were deciding school policy at any level – federal, state or local – we’d include them in the process – in fact, they’d be the deciding factor!

If we really appreciated teachers, we wouldn’t wait – as many folks do – until they call us to find out how our children are doing in school. We’d be proactive. And if our kids aren’t doing well, we wouldn’t blame the teacher. We’d hold our own kids responsible and look for solutions.

If we really appreciated teachers, we wouldn’t blame them for their summer breaks. We’d understand that they aren’t paid for this time yet they often take professional development courses on their own dime or work retail just to make ends meet.

If we really appreciated teachers, we’d respect them as professionals, and we’d pay them accordingly. We’d respect their rights to a positive working environment both for themselves and for our own children.

So seriously – you can stuff your ridiculous Teacher Appreciation Week.

A free cookie just isn’t going to do it.

Paying Back School Kids on the Installment Plan – PA Budget Shenanigans

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Hey, Kids!

 

We’re your Pennsylvania Legislature, and we’re here to help!

 

We just passed a new state budget that puts $200 million more in your classrooms! Isn’t that great!?

 

Yeah. We know. Your public schools are crumbling to dust, and your school books are falling apart, and you’re stuffed into overcrowded classrooms, and…

 

But here’s some more money so it’s all better now!

 

Um. No. It actually doesn’t heal that huge chunk of cash we slashed from public schools six years ago. We’ve been giving you back about $100-200 million a year for a while now, so with this new budget… uh… We’re actually about $150 million short. But we’re good for it!

 

No, that doesn’t take into account inflation. Or compounding costs. Or the billions you should have had but did without in the intervening years. Or the loans you had to take out to stay operational while we argued over all this.

 

Jeez. I guess that means your schools are still deep in the hole, huh?

 

Well, don’t you worry. Next year we’re bound to give you just a little bit more. At this rate, we should have paid you back all that money we took in about 20 years!

 

You’re welcome!

 

The 2016-17 budget was passed in two motions. A spending plan was ratified at the end of June, and a revenue package to pay for it was passed on Wednesday. That’s only 13 days beyond the state-mandated deadline for doing so. It’s a huge improvement over last year’s budget, which was 9 months late!

 

One of the largest sticking points was an initiative to allow charter schools to proliferate exponentially without oversight or state control. It was tabled until a later date. Legislators now go on summer break.

 

What’s that, sonny boy?

 

You wonder how Pennsylvania stacks up to other states in terms of education funding? Well according to federal education data, we’re number one!

 

No. Not number one as in the best. Number one as in the worst. Our state has the worst funding inequality in the nation!

 

You see, even though we’ve been adding more money into classrooms, it hasn’t been done equitably.

 

When our previous Governor, Corbett, and the Republican-controlled legislature slashed almost $1 billion annually in education funding back in 2011, we didn’t take it away from all schools equally. We took the lion’s share from the poorest schools. But when we started putting it back piece-by-piece, we didn’t give it all back to those impoverished districts.

 

It’s all kind of complicated, but since you asked…

 

We used to do something called the charter school reimbursement.

 

This was money set aside to help schools deal with the extra cost of having a charter school pop up in their neighborhood. Charter schools siphon off loads of funding so they can operate without actually reducing the operating expenses of traditional public schools all that much. So when a charter school opens, it usually means kids left in the traditional public school suffer.

 

When the Corbett cuts went through, we got rid of that charter school reimbursement all together. Now those schools – most of them in impoverished areas – have to make up that money some other way.

 

The funding formula? Yes, the legislature did create a new funding formula – a more fair way to distribute education monies across the Commonwealth. However, it’s got some kinks in it.

 

First, we didn’t want to take away any extra money rich schools were getting that they don’t need, so we made sure to grandfather that money in. I know it means less for schools that really need it, but… you know… rich people.

 

Second, the funding formula only adds $150 million for the poorest districts. Our current Governor, the guy who was elected after Corbett was kicked out of Harrisburg for shortchanging school children, Gov. Wolf, he wanted to include more. But the Republican controlled legislature wouldn’t allow it. They said it would send too much money to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and you know what kind of kids go there? Right? Blac… I mean, poor ones.

 

You know, the only way we get away with this is because Pennsylvanians aren’t very good at math.

 

You see, we’ve been playing a shell game with numbers. We add fixed costs like pensions into the mix to make it look like we’re spending more than ever on public schools. But when it comes to money that actually goes to the classroom, nope!

 

It’s like replacing your tires and wondering why you have no money for gas.

 

Specifically, you kids lost $841 million for your classrooms between 2010-11 and 2011-12. That’s why you lost 30,000 teachers, guidance counselors, nurses and other school staff. That’s why you lost extra-curriculars, arts and music, foreign language, field trips and why class size exploded. Heck! Several kids died for lack of having a full-time school nurse!

 

By the time voters booted Corbett, he and the Republican legislature were spending $579 million less in 2014-15 as opposed to 2010-11. And now with Gov. Wolf and the threat of voters booting lawmakers who thought they were safe even in their highly gerrymandered districts, we’ve got that gap down to about $150 million.

 

How are we paying for this? Uh. We’re taxing the poor and using one-time funding streams.

 

We’ve raised a $1 per pack tax on cigarettes. We’ve got liquor privatization, internet gaming, a licensing fee for a second Philadelphia casino, and a tax amnesty program.

 

More than half is made up of one-time sources. That means next year we’re going to have another budget deficit to fix just like we did this year. But our fiscal conservatives will just do the same thing and put it on the credit card. That’s what it means right? Fiscal conservative?

 

The good news is we didn’t have to raise taxes on rich people. We’re one of the “terrible ten” states that relies on the poor to pay a larger percentage of the tax burden than the rich, and we’re darn proud of it!

 

Sure we could have instituting a severance tax on natural gas; closed the Delaware tax loophole; and slightly increased taxes on those who are making bank, but those are our real constituents. Those are the ones who pay us the big bucks. You expect us to inconvenience them for you poor people!?

 

Ha!

 

Consider that a lesson, kiddos. We aren’t here for you or your parents. Now take this measly bit of education funding we owe you and be happy with it. If you’re lucky, next year we might give you back the last few hundred million we took. Then you’ll only be down due to rising costs, inflation and seven years of neglect!

 

Pennsylvania Breathes Sigh of Relief As Crappy GOP Budget Becomes Law

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The majority won in Pennsylvania this week.

After 9 months of bipartisan bickering, the state finally has a 2015-16 budget.

And it’s almost exactly the same spending plan favored by the majority.

The majority of lawmakers, that is.

Voters, however, wanted something much different.

They wanted it to heal almost $1 billion in cuts to public schools. They wanted it to be balanced and not to spend more than it takes in. They wanted everyone to pay their fair share.

But lawmakers disagreed and took the entire Commonwealth on an extended game of chicken while schools had to scrimp and borrow just to stay open.

Like any public spectacle, the conflict centered around two teams: Republicans and Democrats.

The Republicans refused to raise taxes, even after they had previously reduced state revenue to a place where it could no longer provide the services taxpayers expect. The Democrats wanted to raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations who were getting away without paying their fair share, thereby increasing services to a point citizens have come to expect.

The result? Nine months of finger pointing.

The GOP-controlled legislature passed the same budget over-and-over again, while Gov. Tom Wolf (a Democrat) kept vetoing it.

There was a brief moment when they almost agreed on a compromise budget, but GOP lawmakers just couldn’t stomach a tax increase if it didn’t include an almost definitely Unconstitutional measure to shortchange state workers pensions.

This week Wolf agreed to let pretty much the same Republican budget become law without his signature. Otherwise, some of the state’s more than 500 school districts would have had to close. He said he hopes to focus on next year’s budget which is due at the end of June.

Wolf came into office on a tidal wave of support from across the state to unseat the previous Republican governor. The people couldn’t have been more clear – fairly fund education and get the fiscal ship in order. But since state legislative districts were redrawn under the previous administration to gerrymander lawmakers, voters were silenced.

Which brings us to the inescapable question: why are voters putting up with this?

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

The above quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, sums up the proper relationship between governors and governed.

Our lawmakers aren’t afraid of us. Are we afraid of them?

The budget passed this week does increase education by $200 million. but that’s still far below what Republicans cut five years ago. Apparently, they aren’t afraid voters will make them pay a price for this. They don’t think we have the guts to unseat them in their safe gerrymandered districts.

They figure that since most of the voters in their districts are registered Republicans, they won’t have to answer for shortchanging school children – especially those at poor districts which receive more state support.

They figure other Republicans like themselves don’t care about poor black kids. Are they right? You tell me, Pennsylvania!

Likewise, they think GOP constituents don’t care if the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. They think we’ll buy the lie that business works kind of like getting pandas to mate at the zoo. We have to do everything we can to make them comfortable or else no little panda cubs.

So the rich and corporations get sweetheart deals while the rest of us – even Republicans – have to tighten our belts. What say you, Pennsylvania? You buying that?

While no one thinks the budget should be unbalanced, they are betting you will let them push the blame onto the other party. There is a $2 million deficit because Republicans didn’t want to raise taxes. Never mind that they opposed measures to fairly make up the difference. Never mind that they have no problem cutting services so that you don’t get your taxes worth from state government.

Well, Pennsylvania? Are you swallowing that whooper!?

We’ve become used to blaming our politicians. Both Democrats and Republicans love to rag on our elected officials.

But it’s not really their fault.

It’s ours.

We’ve let it get this way.

Sure, the odds are stacked against us. Corporate money floods legislators campaigns so they can buy endless ads convincing us to vote against our own interests. Legislative districts are drawn so that a minority of Pennsylvanians get a majority say.

But we still have the last vestiges of a functioning Democracy here. We still hold elections, and they still have consequences.

If lawmakers felt like they would be held accountable, it would change their actions. Why do you think they didn’t enact that terrible pension plan last year when the GOP controlled both the legislature and the governor’s mansion?

They were afraid of taking the blame. They were afraid voters of both parties wouldn’t put up with it. Republicans only had the guts to push it through if they could force Democrats to vote for it, too. That way, people would have no choice but to blame both parties and not just the GOP.

We need to make them feel that same fear for under-resourcing our schools. When Republican voters in gerrymandered districts show up to their legislators offices en mass and demand equitable school funding, that’s when things will change.

When Republican voters care as much about poor black kids as they do about rich white kids, that’s when things will change. When Tea Party citizens demand the rich pay as fair a share of the tax burden as they do, then things will change.

But so long as we pretend politics is a sporting event and you have to stand by your team, things will remain as they are.

Democrat. Republican. Tea Party. Progressive. These are nothing but labels that divide us. Throw them away.

Turn off the TV. Stop listening to talk radio. Crumble up the op-ed.

Go to the voting booth with the only thing that matters.

Vote with your heart.

Entire State of Pennsylvania Held Hostage by Handful of Ideologues Refusing Budget Compromise

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Pennsylvania’s hostage crisis goes into Day 258 Saturday.

Republican lawmakers continue to block the passage of a state budget that was required by law at the end of June 2015.

In fact, Gov. Tom Wolf – a Democrat – released his spending plan this week for the fiscal year 2016-17 – yet the previous year’s budget still has not been approved!

Even after numerous difficult concessions made by Democrats, Republicans still decline approval of any spending plan but their own.

I call this a “hostage crisis” because their actions are not supported by the majority of Pennsylvanians.

The overwhelming majority of residents want a budget. The overwhelming majority of voters cast ballots for Democrats in the last election, but the GOP remains in control of the legislature purely because of gerrymandering. That’s why the majority of residents booted out the former Republican Governor and overwhelmingly approved Democrat Wolf to replace him.

Meanwhile, legislative Democrats lead by Gov. Wolf have made numerous concessions to the opposition. For instance, the Keystone state is one of the richest in the nation in shale deposits yet it is the ONLY one not to tax the industry. That’s right: Ohio, Wyoming, North Dakota, West Virginia, Colorado, Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, Utah and Alabama all have a severance tax. Only Pennsylvania does not.

GOP legislators receive massive donations from the energy industry and have demanded gas drilling remain untaxed. Though Wolf promised to make shale drillers pay their fair share, the Democrats have conceded the issue in the name of compromise.

Our posterity will look back at us and wonder why we let gas drillers poison our environment. But we aren’t even asking questions about the industry’s impact on our water and soil. Instead, we’re fighting over whether to tax them or not! And still there is no budget!

Additionally, Republicans demand we further dismantle our urban school districts like Philadelphia City Schools. The GOP insists on accountability from the district while making sure no one actually responsible for the schools’ hardships will ever actually be held accountable. The district has been systematically underfunded. Administrative decisions have been taken over mostly by the state. Yet somehow the solution is further privatizing the poorest buildings without any transparency from the for-profit companies that will take over.

Democrats have given in to this outrageous ultimatum. And still we have no budget!

No amount of public bloodletting has been enough for Republicans. As each demand has been met, a new one is leveled. The latest example is a GOP commandment to shortchange state workers pensions.

Republicans insist the Democrats allow them to reduce pension payments to new and current employees. Never mind that this is illegal. Pensions are bills for services rendered. You can’t sign a contract promising to pay X and then years later decide to give less. Pensions are part of a trade off state workers make when they take the job. In essence, state workers agree to lower wages than they would receive in the private sector in exchange for a safe, reliable pension when they retire. You can’t renege on that.

A tentative agreement was reached to reduce benefits for only new state employees, but it failed. Never mind that this measure would achieve no cost savings for a generation. Never mind that it would reduce the quality of employee who would even apply to work for the state. Never mind that just last year Republicans – who controlled both the executive and legislative branches – could have enacted any bill they wanted. But they are only pushing the issue this year to force Democrats to take partial responsibility for legislation they didn’t have the courage to enact alone.

This is not partisanship. These are facts.

On the local scene, there are lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that are willing to put party aside and work for the common good. But at the state level, Republicans almost exclusively are destroying the value of our government. It shouldn’t exactly be surprising that people who got into office campaigning that we don’t need government turn out to do a bad job of running it.

The national banking and investing world have made it quite clear. Standard & Poor’s cited the state’s budget impasse as the reason it withdrew an A rating from the Commonwealth’s public school system. Moody’s Investors Service likewise downgraded the state’s general obligation rating. The legislature’s actions are destroying our national reputation and ability to get things done.

The major sticking point is that Wolf and the Democrats are asking Republicans to restore the almost $1 billion in budget cuts made to education for the last 4 years and continuing through this year’s budget temper tantrum. The GOP had no problem robbing public schools of this money when they also controlled the Governor’s mansion. They are just now adamantly opposed to returning it.

Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with protecting residents’ taxes. Blocking the passage of a budget forces local municipalities and school districts to do state legislator’s dirty work for them and raise local taxes. Legislative Republicans are shirking their duties and pointing fingers elsewhere.

After even worse actions by Republicans in Michigan, it’s hard not to wonder what has become of the GOP? Poisoning the town of Flint? Systematically disinvesting in Detroit Schools? And now in Pennsylvania refusing to pass a fiscal budget!? This isn’t your father’s GOP!

Are state Republicans even a political organization anymore? With actions like these, don’t they more resemble home-grown terrorists? If ISIL took over Harrisburg and shut down the state budget, it would be an act of war. They are spreading chaos for chaos’ sake.

If it weren’t for Gov. Wolf releasing emergency funds through an executive order, many schools would already be closed. Many public services would be shut down. But this can’t last much longer. The Governor can’t govern alone indefinitely.

It is time for the hostage crisis to end. If you live in a Republican-controlled legislative district, you need to let your representative know that you want compromise. Send your legislator back to Harrisburg. Don’t let any of them return to their home districts until the impasse is over. Heck! Thousands should march outside of the capital building keeping a quorum present until the matter is resolved. None of them should get to leave until they DO. THEIR. JOBS.

Until then, all of us in Pennsylvania remain at the mercy of a handful of ideological cowards while our schools go wanting and public services rot on the vine.

Unions Can’t Just Be About What We’re Allowed to Do: Social Justice Unionism

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If labor unions were an animal, they’d be an old hound dog napping on the porch.

They’re slow to get up and chase away burglars but they do like to howl at night.

Most of the time you don’t even know they’re around until the dinner bell rings. Then that ancient mutt is first to bolt into the kitchen to find a place at the table.

It’s kind of sad really. That faithful old dog used to be really something in his youth.

He was fierce! He’d bark at trespassers even tearing them apart if they threatened his patch of land.

Old Uncle Sam used to yell at him and even threaten the pooch with a rolled up newspaper, but that dog didn’t care. He had a sense of right and wrong, and he didn’t mind getting into deep trouble fighting for what he thought was fair.

Today, however, the only thing that really riles him is if you threaten to take away his ratty old bone.

Let’s face it. Unions have become kind of tame. They’re housebroken and not much of a threat to those people waiting in the shadows to rob us blind.

Some people say we’d be better off without them. But I don’t agree. Even a decrepit canine can act as a deterrent, and thieves sure are frightened of dogs.

Think about all unions have given us: the weekend, child labor laws, vacation time, pensions, lunch breaks, healthcare, the 8-hour day, maternity leave, safety measures, due process, sick leave and free speech protections on the job!

They didn’t get us all that by sitting politely at the table with their hands crossed. They didn’t do all that by contributing modest sums to political campaigns. They didn’t do it by obsessively protecting collective bargaining at the expense of all else.

Unions used to take to the streets. They took over the job site. They marched with signs and placards. They exercised people power.

And the government was scared of them. The President called out the army to get them back to work. Lawmakers hired mercenaries to break strikes with clubs and guns. But eventually Congress passed laws to placate them.

Unfortunately, That was a long time ago.

For decades the pendulum has been swinging against us. Federal and state laws have become increasingly restrictive. They want to tell us when we can strike and how long. They want to tell us when and if we can collect dues. And – frankly – they want to tell us to just disperse and do whatever the bosses want – because the business class has already bought and paid for our politicians.

For decades we’ve heard to their propaganda on TV, the radio and the print media. Well-paid shills have poured their poison in our ears about the evils of the labor movement. They’ve spoken these lies so often lots of people believe them.

Workers used to fight to make sure everyone got a fair deal. Now the working man has been brainwashed to focus instead on making sure no one else gets more than him. And the bosses are laughing all the way to the bank.

Union membership is at the lowest it’s been in a century. So are wages adjusted for inflation. A family of four used to be able to get by comfortably on one salary. Now it can barely make ends meet with two.

Yes. There’s no doubt about it. We need unions today more than ever.

But for unions to survive, they must change. They have to become a reflection of the membership and not just of the leaders.

During this presidential election cycle, we’ve seen our largest national unions – the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsing a candidate without bothering to actively poll their members. We’ve seen them speak for us on policy decisions without asking our opinions. We’ve seen them act just like the corrupt politicians who we should be fighting against.

Yes, it is time for a change. No longer can our unions be run from the top down. They must be run from the bottom up. They shouldn’t tell us what to do. We, the membership, should be giving orders to them.

Moreover, we need to stop obsessing about collective bargaining. I’m not saying that’s unimportant. But it can’t be the only thing we do.

Our unions used to be in the midst of larger social movements. We were part of the Civil Rights movement. We were part of the push for desegragation. We were part of the fight to protect children and provide them a decent education.

We need to continue that today. And in some places we are already doing that! Look to Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia. Teachers unions in those urban areas are fighting not just for better pay and benefits but for the communities they serve. Detroit teachers en mass are calling off sick to protest horrible conditions in the schools. Chicago teachers are marching in the streets with the community to demand indictments for police murdering their black and brown students. Philadelphia teachers are supporting students who walk out of class to protest state disinvestment and toxic testing.

THIS is what unions should be doing. We should be fighting for social justice. We should be a central part of the struggle to turn the tide against corporatization, privatization and standardization of our country’s public goods. We should be marching hand-in-hand with BlackLivesMatter activists. We should be in the front lines of the fight to save our environment and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

We must be part of the community and not apart from it. We must share in the struggles and goals of those we serve. We must be an example of the old truism that a rising tide raises all ships. After all, the word “union” literally means together. By definition we must all be in this together or else we’re not even really a union.

And to do this we have to stop being so concerned with what they tell us we can do.

We live in a democratic society. The government gets its power from us, from our consent. That means that if there are enough of us, we trump their corrupt laws. They only get to make those laws because we say so. And court decisions – even Supreme Court decisions – mean nothing next to the court of public opinion.

The bosses buy the politicians and tell them to legislate us into a box. It’s time to break out of that box. We can’t be afraid to take our power back. We shouldn’t be afraid of our government. Our government should be afraid of us.

How do we do it? Organize.

If you belong to a union, roll up your sleeves and get active. Run for office. Convince like-minded folks to join you. Take over your local. Spread to your national.

If you don’t belong to a union, start one at your job. Talk to your co-workers. Talk about the benefits for each of you and your neighborhoods. Fight for your rights.

I know. It’s a whole lot easier to complain. Real change, though, takes real work.

We used to know these things. Somewhere along the line we forgot.

So wake up, you yeller cur dog, and get off the porch. Take to the streets.

Because the surest way to take back our country is to take back our unions.

Broken Promises! Pennsylvania Republicans Ready to Renege on Pension Deal Even if It Means Breaking the Law

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Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering breaking the law.

In fact, they may have already done it.

The reason? Pension debt.

The Commonwealth owes an estimated $50 million in unpaid pension obligations to state employees.

Instead of doing the responsible thing and paying off the state debt, Republican legislators are trying to rip up the bill and pay whatever they want.

If you or I did that, they’d put us in jail. But I guess the rules are different in Harrisburg.

As a public school employee, I work for the commonwealth. So do the state’s troopers, judges, university staff, etc. When I took this job, I signed a contract. I agreed to certain things (i.e. teaching, keeping up my certification, etc.) if the state agreed to certain things (i.e. pay, benefits, etc.).

But now GOP lawmakers – I don’t mean to be partisan but it is ONLY Republicans – want to renege on that deal.

Let’s say I came into school one day and said, “You know what? I just don’t feel like teaching today. But you still have to pay me.” No reasonable person would expect the state to cut me a check.

I need to live up to my end of the bargain. Otherwise, the state doesn’t have to give me one dollar.

And I have no problem with that. I love teaching. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.

But the state has to live up to its end, too. That goes beyond common sense. It’s one of the key principals of any civilized society. Each party to a contract has to abide by the agreement.

That’s really the issue – breach of contract. Legislators want to reduce benefits for both new employees – which is shortsighted but legal – and current employees – which has NEVER been permissible.

This isn’t just my interpretation. When lawmakers in Oregon and Illinois tried to rip up their state employee pensions, their state Supreme Courts ruled it unconstitutional.

State constitutions in both Oregon and Illinois specifically prohibit violation of contracts. Pennsylvania’s state constitution has an almost identical provision.

1+1=2.

That is not serious lawmaking. It’s theater.

This legislation has already passed the state Senate with all Democrats and one Republican voting against it. If it somehow were to pass the state House (which is by no means a sure thing) and if Gov. Wolf signed it into law (which he has said he would NOT do), it would go straight to court.

There would be no cost savings. In fact, the state would have to spend additional taxpayer money to defend legislators’ disdain for their own laws and 370,000 state workers.

So why do it?

Politics.

Gov. Wolf has proposed a budget that would right the wrongs of the previous Republican administration. Among other things, Wolf would restore $1 billion in annual cuts to public schools.

With this, we could reduce class size by rehiring the 25,000 teachers we unnecessarily sacked four years ago. We could ensure all children get arts, music, science labs, foreign languages, sports and extra-curricular activities. Even amenities like school nurses and guidance counselors could be restored.

But from the moment the governor made this promise, Republicans have vowed to oppose it. They had no problem four years ago voting to cripple our state education system. The result: Pennsylvania has the most inequitable school spending in the nation.

The commonwealth spends only 36.1% of the cost to educate students. That’s far below the national average of 45.5%, and ranks 45th in the country. The remaining cost is absorbed by local property taxes. Not only does this put an enormous tax burden on residents, it ensures schools in richer communities are better funded than those in poorer ones.

In fact, Pennsylvania has the worst disparity in the nation between dollars spent on rich vs. poor children.

But our Republican lawmakers are refusing to do anything about that…

Unless!

Unless the Democrats allow them to pilfer state workers pensions.

Republicans are holding the budget hostage to this criminal pension scheme.

Realistically, they need no help in the House and Senate. They control both bodies and in theory could pass whatever they want. However, this is the first year we have a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, so they need to bargain with him.

Funny when Republicans controlled both the executive and legislative branches, they didn’t have the guts to do this alone. Once it failed, who would they have had to blame?

That’s the reason for this elaborate hoax of a bill. They know it’s illegal. They know it won’t make it through court. They know it won’t save the state a dime because it will never be enacted.

But they are putting on a show for the voters.

Look how hard we tried to save the state money, but the Democrats (i.e. Wolf) wouldn’t let us do it. Look how hard we tried to increase school spending, but the Democrats (i.e. Wolf) wouldn’t pass our pension bill so we just couldn’t do it.

Excuse me while I go vomit all over myself!

How did we get in such a situation?

Basically, the legislature stopped paying the bills for 17 years.

pa_required_vs_actual_contributions_pew_600

Both the state government and commonwealth employees are responsible for paying into the pension system. And state workers made all their payments. They put aside 7.5% of their salaries every year to pay for their retirement.

But the legislature didn’t make its payments. It pushed them off to the future, and now that the future’s here, lawmakers have the gall to act like they have no idea where this cost is coming from!?

You ran up the bill! Time to pay! But instead of doing that, you blame the hardworking men and women who do all the state’s actual J.O.B.’s. And you practice Al-Qaeda tactics against labor, teachers and students!

Is that too harsh?

Who else holds people hostage to their demands?

This is terrorism as governmental policy. Our course of action should be the same with guerrilla extremists at home as it is with those on foreign soil: We don’t bargain with fanatics.

Gov. Wolf has a plan to pay off the pension debt. It’s nothing fancy. It’s the same kind of advice you might get from your accountant – or your mom. Refinance, reduce costs elsewhere and pay your bills.

That’s certainly a more sound strategy than holding a knife to workers and kids.


If you live in the commonwealth, please write your Senator and State Representative asking them not to support the GOP pension plan and to pass Gov. Wolf’s budget.

NOTE: This article was also published on the Badass Teachers Association blog. I also talked at length about this subject on the Rick Smith Show.

BONUS VIDEO:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhUPs6SJQMc