The Senate Education Committee in Pennsylvania is planning to fast-track a bill that could end collective bargaining rights for school employees.
Here’s how they’re doing it. First, in his first two budgets, Governor Tom Corbett and his allies cut almost a billion dollars from public education in Pennsylvania. Like his corporate-backed brethren Scott Walker and John Kasich, Corbett repeated the lie that the cuts were necessary because the state was broke, while ignoring the millions in lost revenue from corporate tax loopholes.
The second step is to use the funding “crisis” – the crisis that they created with their deep and unnecessary cuts – to attack the rights of teachers and other school employees. The Senate Education Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Jeffrey Piccola, is planning to amend House Bill 1307 to allow the state to cancel current collective bargaining agreements in “financially distressed” school districts.
In addition, they want to use a parliamentary maneuver to avoid the lower house:
In an effort to fast-track the legislative process, members of the Senate Education Committee will attempt to amend the financial distressed provisions of SB 1450 into House Bill 1307. This means the bill would not need to be considered by the House Education Committee and would be one step closer to Governor Tom Corbett’s desk.
Remember the Chester Upland School District, where teachers opted to work for free when funding ran out? That would be called a “financially distressed” district under the state’s definition. But these teachers – and thousands others across the state, if asked – would rather work without pay then give up on their students’ education. How on earth would taking away their right to bargain for wages and benefits improve the districts’ financial situation?
It wouldn’t. It wouldn’t at all. But for Gov. Corbett, Sen. Piccola, and their allies, it’s not about saving money, and it’s not about education. It’s about the corporate-backed ideological crusades against public education and workers’ rights.
Senator Piccola is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). We don’t know this because he has been honest with his constituents about it; we know this because in 1991 he used at least $1,375 taxpayer dollars to attend an ALEC conference in Seattle. For decades, ALEC has developed model bills to privatize public education, weaken rights for teachers, and funnel money away from students into the pockets of for-profit corporations.
Governor Corbett, who has led the charge against our children’s future from Harrisburg, does not shy away from his connections to those who want to dismantle public education. He was the keynote speaker at the National Policy Summit of the American Federation for Children (AFC), which is headed up by the ultra-wealthy private education crusader Betsy DeVos. (DeVos is the sister of Blackwater/Xe founder Erik Prince and the wife of Amway heir and right-wing donor Dick DeVos. Think of them as the Koch Brothers, just more focused on destroying public education.)
AFC’s political arm is called Students First, headed up by anti-union former superintendent Michelle Rhee. Students First gave $5.9 million to Pennsylvania candidates and committees, including the one that put Piccola in his chairmanship, and they have already given $25,000 to Governor Corbett this year.
(Another connection: DeVos’ organization AFC is a member of ALEC, and works with ALEC to develop “school choice” and other privatization bills.)
That’s all to say this: Corbett, Piccola, and their political allies aren’t pushing this agenda because they think it’s the right thing for students, teachers, or communities. They aren’t pushing this agenda because their constituents called for it. They are acting on the behalf of ALEC corporations, right-wing think tanks, and billionaire ideologues who fill their campaign war chests and keep them in power. And they’ll keep doing it unless we expose them.