Last month, the commonwealth’s largest teachers’ union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), blasted a thank-you to parents and teachers for classroom success in newspapers across Pennsylvania. The statement, while kind on its face, appears carefully calibrated to mitigate the damage caused by the tweet from the PSEA’s national affiliate that said educators “know better than anyone” what students need.
You don’t need to look to Twitter to see what PSEA really values — you simply need to examine the federal tax filing disclosing their finances for the 2021–22 school year. An analysis of the tax filings by the nonprofit Americans for Fair Treatment (AFFT) makes it clear: The PSEA cares more about amassing political influence and rewarding its executives than the teachers it claims to represent.
According to AFFT’s analysis, the PSEA spent just “$1 out of every $5 of member dues representing teachers, support staff, and other members. The rest of the membership dues money goes towards running the union, politics, and lobbying.”
This is not a union investing in helping its members.
READ MORE — Howard Lurie: Words mean things — especially in the law
The PSEA disclosed that it sent yet another $550,000 in member dues to its political arm, the “Fund for Student Success.” This organization, to which the PSEA has sent at least $3.25 million since 2018, has more to do with getting politicians elected than “student success.” In 2022 alone, it sent about $1.5 million to the Democratic Governors Association to support Josh Shapiro.
Indeed, the PSEA’s spending record makes the group look more like a progressive political institution than an organizing force for workers. The PSEA reported spending $3 million on political activities and lobbying last year, while its political action committee (PAC) sent another $2.5 million to political candidates. That makes nearly $50 million in union dues the PSEA has spent on politics since 2007, with the vast majority going to Democrats.
At the same time, PSEA executives are getting rich. According to the most recent federal filing, the PSEA’s president made $319,303, its vice president $206,388, and its treasurer $186,634. Another 157 employees have six-figure salaries. Meanwhile, the PSEA’s national affiliate, the National Education Association (NEA) — whose executives get a cut of the action too — spent much of the year arguing that average teacher pay has gone down over the last decade, mostly on their watch.
These numbers speak more to the professional ambitions of PSEA executives, not their interest in representing rank-and-file members.
Pennsylvania’s largest teachers’ union values its own political power over the teachers it is supposed to serve.
In fact, the PSEA overcharges teachers when it could lighten their load. The union reported $88 million in cash-on-hand, with $57 million in stocks and bonds and nearly $174 million in total assets — enough to pay thousands of new teachers and solve Pennsylvania’s teacher shortage.
But the PSEA didn’t even touch this stockpile last year, despite another net loss in membership. Instead, it increased dues by another $11 per member, which means your kid’s teacher now pays the PSEA about $800 a year, with a $250 cut to the NEA. The result was a $5 million surplus that the union logged as yet another asset.
The PSEA is just another brick in the wall of “Labor’s Fortress of Finance,” as researcher and former union organizer Chris Bohner would put it. In a recent report, Bohner observes that traditional unions seem intent on bringing in far more money than they intend to spend, prolonging an “(un)virtuous economic cycle, in which labor revenues and assets grow while membership steadily declines.”
The PSEA’s numbers speak for themselves, but here’s the bottom line: Pennsylvania’s largest teachers’ union values its own political power over the teachers it is supposed to serve.
David Osborne is the Senior Fellow of Labor Policy with the Commonwealth Foundation and Special Counsel to Americans for Fair Treatment.