Who is more important: children or the teachers union?

Like college students cramming for finals, Harrisburg politicians are supposed to pass a budget by June 30. Much of the fighting will be about the needs of students versus the special interests, led by the teachers’ union.

Over 77,000 students in Pennsylvania are happy going to a school their parents chose — a Jewish day school, a parochial school, or Quaker or private school — with scholarship help. Pennsylvania has a tax credit program allowing businesses and taxpayers to donate to scholarship organizations to help children get to a school that works.  

Yet over 63,000 thousand other students don’t receive those scholarships — because there’s not enough scholarship money to keep up with the growing demand among poor and middle class families seeking hope for their children. (However, donors want to donate more, if the politicians would let them.) Many students are forced to attend schools that are unsafe or failing their students — some schools with grades where no one is doing grade-level work!

Over 99,000 students are happy going to a charter school that their parents chose — one of 161 in neighborhoods from Erie to South Philly.

Yet, over 30,000 students are stuck on charter school waiting lists because politicians have intentionally capped the enrollment in those schools — and in some communities the school board won’t allow new schools to open

Over 67,000 students attend cyber charter schools that their parents chose because learning online is how they thrive, where they feel safe, how they can do extra work, how they can have extra time to catch up, or how they learn best in the post-Covid era. 

For some students, the glass is half full; for others, it’s half empty. Some kids don’t even have a glass.

Years ago, with bipartisan support in Harrisburg, legislators passed laws to give parents choices and children hope. Yet as the numbers also show, there are thousands of parents still looking for a better school — to keep their kids safe, reinforce the values they teach at home, or make sure that they are actually learning. 

Taxpayers focused on empowering children; respecting parents; or wanting students to succeed would want to increase options — and to offer hope. But education is funded and regulated by politicians, too many of whom are dependent on and loyal to special interests. So all too often, the focus isn’t on students’ success.

At the very moment when progress is being made, when parents are seeking more choices, there are actually Pennsylvania politicians seeking to reduce choices. 

They want parents to have less choice. These politicians would trap students in failing public schools — worse, forcing some students to leave their cyber or parochial school. They would be forced to go to a public school that we know doesn’t work — or didn’t work for them.

Because some politicians arrogantly think they know best and others are so weak they prefer campaign donations to students getting diplomas, there’s a real danger facing Pennsylvania students and parents.

Here’s what the “special interest caucus” in Harrisburg would impose, if they have the votes. (And they are dangerously close.)

House Bill 1422 would reduce funding for cyber schools by an average of 42 percent, according to House Republican Appropriations Committee analysts. You don’t have to be an accountant or school principal to know that a 42 percent cut could mean that schools would close, cancel services, or have to dismiss students. 

And, remember, cyber students cost taxpayers only 70 percent of what it costs to educate a student in a traditional public school. So, students would be forced out of a school they love, plus taxpayers would have to fork over more money. Cyber schools are the fastest growing part of education. Makes one wonder why some politicians would want to harm their students?

House Bill 2063 takes aim at the scholarship organizations offering support to over 77,000 students. The sponsors want to change the qualifying rules — making it impossible for many two-income families to qualify. Plus, they want to increase the red tape and restrictions on the staff running these scholarship organizations. 

If the sponsors of HB 2063 get their way, thousands of students would have to leave the schools they love and maybe some of the scholarship organizations would have to go out of business. Makes one wonder why some politicians would want to harm these students?

Next up, enrollment caps on charter schools. Stunningly, having artificially limited the enrollment of charter schools in Philadelphia, Allentown and across our state — locking out thousands of students — politicians now want to impose enrollment caps on cyber charter schools. 

Imagine being a family in Philadelphia. Your local public school might be unsafe — as the school’s own data proves — or the test scores might be low—as the school’s own data proves. You can’t go to a nearby charter school because there’s a waiting list, and you can’t afford to go to private or parochial school because the scholarship money ran out. These parents may want to try a cyber school this fall — another avenue to find safety and success. 

Now, imagine being told that the cyber school you want to choose isn’t allowed to accept you. Why? Because politicians decided to arbitrarily cap enrollment.

As a result, you may be forced to send your child back to a school that isn’t working for her — and in some of the worst cases, a school whose own data shows it isn’t working for most students.

Fortunately, there are politicians who see things differently. They’re focused on kids and not special interests. They want parents to have more options, not fewer. And everyone who is a taxpayer, employer, or who has genuine compassion should be rooting for them.

State Senators Tony Williams (of Philadelphia and Delaware Counties) and Judy Ward (from the Altoona area) each have bills to create a statewide scholarship program to rescue our poorest families who are trapped in the worst public schools. Many supporters call these “Lifeline scholarships.”  Any wonder why? 

And, thankfully, dozens more are pushing back and defending scholarship organizations, charter schools and cyber schools.

Pennsylvania is at a political crossroads. It’s an academic, economic, and moral crossroads.

Whether you have children in school or not, this is our fight.

My colleague at the Commonwealth Foundation, Dave Hardy — our Distinguished Senior Fellow — often states that most families have “school choice:” they pay for a safe and better school, they move to a better neighborhood or school district, or they use “connections” (or a false address) to get their child into a better school. Hardy should know, after a career in education and being recognized as a national leader, especially in urban education, he was asked to take over Girard College — a school for underserved students, students in need of support and an education.

Hardy asks us to think: “What about the other children? The students whose parents can’t afford taxes and tuition or to move, or who didn’t get their number pulled at the charter school lottery?”

Mr. Hardy, allow me to add to that: why would anyone want to take away options for any families — especially those families?!

This Pennsylvania budget is really about one question for Governor Shapiro and the state legislators: Who are you for, the children looking for hope, or the special interests?

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Senior Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad + Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. Follow Guy at @PaSuburbsGuy

17 thoughts on “Guy Ciarrocchi: Parents and children versus politicians and teachers unions”

  1. Maybe if the folks you align with politically and their predecessors weren’t hell bent on defunding and abolishing public schools for decades, we wouldn’t be in this situation.

    If you actually cared about the children instead of making it about politics, you’d work to find a way to get the schools and the families the resources they need to succeed. Instead you try to continue to siphon the money to the charter schools that keep you in the lifestyle in which you’ve become accustomed.

  2. Lets look at all the love you and yours provide. School funding cuts, low salaries for teachers, breaking up teachers unions and mandatory testing for funds. Which requires teachers to teach to the test, instead teaching to educate.

  3. @anonymous and @judah, you might want to research the facts before claiming that public schools are under resourced. State spending in Pennsylvania has grown from $9.6 billion in 2019 (Wolfe) to $19.1 billion in 2024 (as proposed by Shapiro). Pennsylvania lost 10,000 teachers in 2023 alone. Students in public school have fallen even further behind because of the unlawful Covid policies and because school “leaders” are more focused on forcing leftwing social issues than they are on properly educating the next generation to grow into functioning members of society. At the same time, the “administrative class” (i.e., government employees who are highly paid but don’t actually do anything in the classroom) has grown by almost 50% (according to the Commonwealth Foundation) and the top superintendents in the state make over $300,000 per year. Meanwhile, the average starting salary for teachers is still below $60,000. Parents aren’t happy, teachers are miserable and leaving the profession, and children are being left behind. The answer to all of this is unrestricted, universal school choice. Let parents decide how and where to educate their children. Elected Republicans need to find a backbone and refuse to fund the public education system until the General Assembly passes a comprehensive school choice bill and puts it on the governor’s desk.

    1. Oh no….another conspiracy theorist that is going to put me in my place with their opinion. By all means lets blame vague ideas as Covid policies and “leftwing social issues”. Can you provide an “leftwing social issues” that being taught in schools?

      You’re right teachers are underpaid, overloaded with work, and stress over the books and subject matter will be designated as inappropriate by the Putin Pac. Parents are free to chose to enroll their children in pay to play schools, but not to remove tax dollars for schools that are needed for public schools. If you think the state of education is bad now, wait until the public schools have even less tax dollars. Charter Schools are in the business to make money, Public Schools are in the Business of Education.

  4. The School District’s 182 page budget detailing $4.4 Billion in planned expenditures to educate 197,000 students comes to an outlay per student of over $22,000 each. This doesn’t seem like they are being cheated out of funds.

    1. $22,000 may sound like a lot, in 2023 10,000 teachers in Pennsylvania quit, We need to increase funding so our public schools to make a real change. Starting with teachers salaries, better access and training with technology. Did you know that the average public school teacher spends $2000.00 per year on classroom supplies. If the average American to supply your own paper to make copies and print documents at work they would quit in droves. well in excess of 10,000.

      1. Judah: “$22,000 may sound like a lot, in 2023 10,000 teachers in Pennsylvania quit, We need to increase funding so our public schools to make a real change.”
        Are you okay? I realize that 8:21pm is late for you. I hope you are getting enough rest. And $22K sounds like a lot, because it is a lot.
        Judah: “If the average American to supply your own paper to make copies and print documents at work they would quit in droves. well in excess of 10,000.”
        Did someone hack your account? If the average American [South American, Central American or North American?] to supply your own paper to make copies… I think I understand your points… but what is going on here with you typing? Have you been too busy serving up humble pie?
        Teachers work roughly 10 months, they receive great benefits, and in PA they are not underpaid by any metric.

        1. Teachers work 12 months a year because during the summer they have to take continuing education credits. As for the other 10 months out of the year they do not have the ability to schedule appointments during the week, sick days are not often used, and when do you think that tests and homework are graded or lesson plans created? If teaching so easy and lucrative why don’t we have a glut of teachers instead of shortage.

          As for humble pie, in spite of the typos in the comment about teachers spending $2000 a year for school supplies, you still understood it. How would react if your employer told you you had to provide all of your office supplies including the coffee you drink?

          1. All Taxpayers are overpaying for educational outcomes.
            The highest cost of any K-12 public school are the all-in teacher costs.
            Teacher total compensation to include not only their salary but their guarnteed dollar pension payouts regardless of the PSERS investment returns (do you happen to know the amount of the UNFUNDED PSERS liabilties); and medical benefits while they are working and when they retire, Do you happen to know what it would cost a non teacher taxpayer to get a dollar guaranteed pension and the identical medical coverage while employed and retired ? Teacher union resistance to nopublic school options are indicative of their insecurity about non public school competition- costs have increased substantailly and test scores have declined substantially while the unions fund politicians to keep the declining status quo in place.

      2. From Salary.com – “How much does a Public School Teacher make in Philadelphia, PA? The average Public School Teacher salary in Philadelphia, PA is $61,328 as of April 24, 2024, but the range typically falls between $51,202 and $74,817.”
        Bachelor’s or Equivalent
        Step 9/1/13 9/1/19
        01 45,360 46,267 – starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor degree and not certified.
        02 47,278 48,224
        03 51,113 52,136
        04 54,365 55,452
        05 57,450 58,599
        06 60,203 61,407
        07 62,869 64,126
        08 64,045 65,326
        09 65,242 66,546
        10 66,462 67,791
        11 67,705 69,060

        1. Lets assume for a moment that a teacher is being paid $51,202 per year, after taxes in Pennsylvania its $38,304. Does that sound like a good paying job to you?

        2. It not only salary – check out the teacher union defined pension benefit , specically the calculation that determines their dollar guaranteed pension payout ; and what teachers pay for gold plated medical coverage while employed and retired and then in some districts teachers get Social Security in addition to their pension.

  5. Ok folks. I was a public school teacher for 33 years. I graduated from Coatesville High school ’73. I’m from Coatesville. I worked for the IU in Southern Chester County with migrant kids and the WCASD as an English teacher. I am a conservative. By the way, there were plenty of conservative teachers that for some reason no Republicans wanted to talk to. They either didn’t want to get dirty or didn’t want to hear the truth.

    I’ll skip the history from the inception of the American education system until the start of its decline in 1965 and jump to the now.

    First, if you blame teachers for our present public school debacle, you’re delusional. If teaching is such a cake job why are attrition rates so high? If you blame teachers’ unions for the present public school debacle you’ve never needed protection from your superiors. I’ve never seen a teacher need the union for being a do-nothing-know-nothing teacher but I’ve seen plenty of teachers who wanted to make a difference need the union for protection.

    Second, we have a public school system that the parents have been conditioned to want. Affluent parents want safe schools where teachers give their kids As and B+s, no homework, and sports programs. On the other hand, non-wealth parents want safe schools where teachers give their kids As and B+s, no homework, and sports programs.

    Want to fix the system? Go back to pre-’65 when our schools were content-centered and not student-centered. When the teacher was the center of attention and not the student. Look at the schools in China, Korea, and Japan. Oh, you say that those countries can be content-centered because they’re homogenous. So then you’re saying, diversity is detrimental to learning and knowledge? You don’t have to go overseas to find successful examples. Look at the ethnic groups in the United States (Asians, Indians, and Jews) who value education. What values are they instilling in their children that the rest of us are not? Half of our intelligence is inherited; the other half is taught.

    We all know we will never go back to pre-’65. Long term educational reform is too costly and advocating for cultural change is taboo. It’s easier to blame teachers, unions, and parents. Meanwhile I’ll send my grandkids to trade school because the politicians tell me to while they send their grandkids to those liberal arts colleges. Do they know something I don’t?

    1. By all means lets look in China, Korea, and Japan as well as the high suicide rates amongst students, rote learning, and cram schools. Did you know these countries send their teachers to the U.S. to study American teaching methods so their children will be less reliant on rote memorization and more on critical thinking.

      Do you know why Jews emphasize education? Because for centuries laws were written to prevent them from on landing and farming, which is how most people made their living and fed their families. Jews had no choice than than to get an education to become merchants, doctors, lawyers, teach, or work in STEM related fields. Asians and Indians did the same as a way to lift their children out of poverty.

      “Half of our intelligence is inherited; the other half is taught.” – How does one inherent intelligence?

      1. Sure, let’s look at the high suicide rates among students in the Far East. Do you have a source with some stats, or are you just dealing in stereotypes?

        1. “The mystery behind Japan’s high suicide rates among kids – STEPHANIE LU”
          “Total number of suicides committed by students in Japan from academic year 2013 to 2022” – Statista
          “Japan sees record-high 512 student suicides in 2022” – Kyodo News

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