One of the questions I’ve been asked many times since becoming an activist supporter of School Property Tax Elimination is “What do you have against educators?” The question usually comes from an educator.
I find the question annoying because it is based on an ill-informed opinion that, because I do not support using a person’s home, which generates no income to pay for the property tax bill, that means that, somehow, I do not support educators.
Let me start by stating that I chair a local grassroots organization and we use an education model to do much of what we do. In fact, the majority of the work done by many of the grassroots efforts around the state to advance School Property Tax Elimination has been to work in the role of educator. Countless hours of research, data analysis and other tools have been used in the development of the presentations used in town halls. In other words, on this issue, we work as educators. Just because we aren’t doing so in the environment of the public school classroom doesn’t negate our role as educators.
My activism at the grassroots level has brought me into contact with a lot of people who work within this system and I find that much of what is done is about using educational models to teach about issues that are relevant to many of us. In attending other grassroots organization’s meetings, again, the model from the front of the room is about educating. There are teachers and there are students in these environments. Students who are free and open to challenge the position of the teachers.
You see, I have nothing against educators. I think educating is a valuable and necessary part of life. At 62 years of age, I still make attempts at educating myself. As a history geek, especially with regards to the events leading up to the American Revolution, I have a home library where I continue to study in an attempt to further educate myself. In spite of the thousands of hours of study on the topic of the ideology that led to the American Revolution, I would never be so arrogant to assume that I have all the answers or to demand, in any discussion on this topic, that mine is the only acceptable view.
You see, the question I’m asked is really a question of what I have against educators in the public school system.
The short answer is, in general, nothing.
I am partially a product of a public educational system. I had some excellent teachers, some mediocre teachers and a few that, quite frankly, in my most humble opinion, should not have been in a classroom teaching students. That’s not an indictment of the entire teaching profession, that’s a reality of all professions.
Every profession has a similar employee landscape. I’ve taken my education in the public school classroom and accepted the responsibility that my educational process did not end with my graduation. In other words, education is not limited to the public school classroom. The occupation of educator is not limited to those identified as public school educators. Just because someone is not paid to educate, does not mean they aren’t an educator. By the same token, just because someone is paid to do so, does not necessarily mean they are actually good at what they are doing.
My real problem, and the problem that HB/SB76 specifically addresses is education funding. It is not a problem with teachers; it is with how we fund education. The supposition that because I want to change how we fund education automatically translates into a prejudicial view of all teachers in the public educational system is a ridiculous assumption.
In the past, I have taken issue with those in the hierarchy of the public school educational system. The PSEA, the Pennsylvania State Educational Association, has put a lot of resources in fighting back against us and in doing so have used the tools, not of educators, but of those who indoctrinate by using misinformation and misdirection.
The PSEA is the state’s largest teacher’s union. Utilizing tax-payer funded collection of union dues, public sector unions have amassed a huge financial ability to influence political policy. The Commonwealth Foundation tells us that unions have spent $72,670,498 since 2010 to influence politics.
Their report goes on to explain “During the 2016 election cycle, government unions spent a total of $19 million—from dues and PAC money—on politics. Of that total, $3.7 million went directly to candidates. PSEA alone made $1.5 million in contributions, double the spending of the next largest PAC contributor, SEIU State Council.” (https://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/detail/policy-memo-government-union-political-spending-trends)
Using tax-payer funded resources to advance a political agenda is one thing; using those resources to provide misinformation and misdirection, is something very different. As I said, that’s not about education, that’s about indoctrination. I have a real problem with that.
The same criticism holds true when it comes to virtually all of the many organizations that supposedly “represent” the public educational system. Here’s just a few of the other institutions:
- PSBA: The Pennsylvania School Boards Association
- PASA: The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators
- PASBO: The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials
- The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (Not officially a public education group but many of their board members are from the state public sector unions)
- The Keystone Research Center (Sister Organization of The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center)
- The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce (Again, not officially a representative of the Public Educational system but a look into the boards of local Chamber groups and you’ll find strong representation from the School Boards Association and School Administrators)
Each of these above organizations have taken official positions against School Property Tax Elimination through HB/SB 76 and have used tools of misinformation and misdirection to fight against it. There have been cases where school districts have used tax-payer resources to send home flyers containing some of this misinformation to try to convince parents of students to oppose school property tax elimination.
When, as activists, we point out the misinformation coming out of these organizations and we refute the claims using the actual legislation itself, we get hit with the question about our disdain for educators. We are accused of attacking teachers. This is simply untrue.
In order to sustain the traditional revenue growth that we have seen through property taxation, it requires constant increases in the property tax. The property tax, unlike the Personal Income Tax (PIT) and Sales Tax (SUT), has a revenue stream that does not grow naturally.
Had HB/SB 76 been passed in 2015, the last time it came up for a vote, the natural growth of the replacement PIT and SUT taxes would have generated an additional $750 million dollars to be used for education and it would have done so without the need of a single tax increase after the implementation of HB/SB76.
The current path we are on is an unsustainable path. It is a path that will eventually fall down upon itself crushed by the public’s inability of keep up with the demands. We already know that at least 10,000 people lose their homes through government seizure of property each year. That just accounts for seizure of property for the inability to keep up with the demands of property taxation. It does not account for the foreclosures and bankruptcy claims associated to the inability to keep up with the property tax.
The property tax issue contributes to the population exodus from Pennsylvania, the problems of blight, the massive inequities we see in education funding and the inability to attract more business to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It hurts small business development and growth.
It contributes to teacher’s layoffs and has drawn attention to an unsustainable pension debt problem that, if not handled soon (some believe its already too late), will drastically impact the future of teacher’s retirement.
That’s because, in all this talk about the stability for the tax collector’s when it comes to property taxation; the problems of the instability it is causing for home owners and the business community; the problems it causes in the instability of the future of all Pennsylvania economics is ignored.
By shifting to a different funding mechanism to fund education we can stabilize the other issues by creating a predictable revenue stream through the PIT and SUT specifically designated for education funding that will allow us to responsibly address the other issues in ways that will help to protect future teachers and their retirements in ways that are more responsible and accountable. It’s not about hurting teachers, it’s about helping them by looking at the future.
We can stay on the path we are on, which, by all accounts, is unsustainable, or we can shift to a different system and make the future of teachers in Pennsylvania more secure.
In a recent conversation with a public school teacher, we talked about the inequity problem and the teacher said “How do you provide adequate funding to rural schools who care more abut the education of the children?”
I found the question rather dumbfounding because, again, it is based on an assumption that is not rooted in reality.
Parents in low income 3rd class cities care about the education of their children. They simply don’t have the economic resources of their neighboring school districts. As an example. I live in Lebanon County and the median household income of the City School District is more than $20,000 less than the median household income in the neighboring school districts. To assume that, because these people in the city have less income so they care less about education than their neighboring school districts is to isolate education funding from the other problems that exist within a community.
It’s wearing blinders to discuss a problem and when you do so, you can not reach solutions that work.
As I look at what is happening with home-ownership and with the business environment in the state, I could reach similar conclusions and make half-hearted claims based on unfounded assumptions. I could ask the same teachers who hit me with the “what do I have against educators” question with the same rhetoric. “What do you have against home ownership”; I could ask “What do you have against small business growth and opportunity?”
Such conversations, however, are futile. I think that many teachers do care and I wouldn’t want to lump them all together as some teachers have done in their criticism of us. There are also many within the above named organizations who disagree with the official positions of their organizations.
That doesn’t mean that myself, or others within our efforts to put an end to school property taxes, don’t get frustrated with those organizations who take official positions of opposition. Sometimes we get angry and I believe that the anger is justifiable.
Unlike the detached position of Michael Wood of the Pennsylvania Public Policy and Research Center who said, in an official testimony before the General Assembly, that 10,000 people losing their homes to property taxation is not a significant enough number to do something, I’ve been out there in my travels across the state to offer education on this issue. I’ve met those people. I’ve seen the devastation and instability to the lives of the people who have been crushed by this tax.
It is true that it’s a lot of seniors but it’s young families as well. I’ve listened to their stories and I’ve shared in their heartaches. In those travels I’ve gone through communities plagued with the issue of blight; where homeowners must choose between maintaining their property or maintaining their property tax.
I’ve spent time talking to small business owners, some of whom have closed their doors. Recently, I talked to a local owner of an Italian Ice store and another who sells Ice Cream from their local business locations. We talked about how many items they have to sell just to pay their property taxes which prevents them from expanding and providing more jobs in our communities.
I only say all of this to make a point. I do care about the future of education in Pennsylvania. I also care about home owners and local business establishments. I care about the future economic condition of the Commonwealth.
What I want is a solution to the problems that works for all of us, not just systems where some benefit at the expense of others.
I think we can change how we fund education in ways that secures the future for educators and education in Pennsylvania without putting homeowners and the small business community at risk.
HB/SB 76 is a responsible solution that will help to pave the way for other solutions. In those solutions, we have to look at the big picture, not through some narrow window of any one particular group of people. It must be systems that are fair and equitable for all because anything else is inequitable. It is unfair.