Thursday, November 20, 2014

Educators Say New Pennsylvania Governor's "Mandate" is to Invest in


PHOTO: Educators say Pennsylvania's incoming governor will have a chance to undo funding cuts that have hurt student achievement. Photo montage courtesy of the National Education Association.
PHOTO: Educators say Pennsylvania's incoming governor will have a chance to undo funding cuts that have hurt student achievement. Photo montage courtesy of the National Education Association.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Incoming Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf faces big budget problems, but educators say he at least received a clear mandate from voters to reverse damaging cuts to schools.

Retired Pittsburgh public school teacher Mike Crossey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), says past policies "blew a big red hole" in the state's budget, and reversed 10 years of improving academic achievement and test scores.

While he says Wolf faces a tough job to undo the damage, Crossey also notes the possibility of bipartisan cooperation following the "big vote of approval" for the governor-elect.

"Tom Wolf has a mandate to come in and not only start investing more in our schools," says Crossey, "but invest wisely so our students, no matter their zip code, have as much a chance to succeed as anyone."

The school funding cuts came as part a broader push to lower taxes and spending, but Crossey says those cuts haven't worked as well as its supporters had hoped, particularly outgoing Governor Tom Corbett. Crossey says Wolf's campaign included proposals to raise revenue, including a tax on gas drillers and closing corporate loopholes. He adds that expanding Medicaid in the commonwealth would bring in almost $500 million.

According to Crossey, the revenue options offer a chance to get school funding and achievement scores back on track.

"You don't throw money at an issue or at a problem, but you invest wisely," he says. "From our point of view, investing money in schools and kids is the best way to grow Pennsylvania."

According to PSEA figures, funding cuts landed hardest on schools least able to deal with them. While the average cut was about $85 per student in the commonwealth's 50 wealthiest schools, Crossey says the cut to the Reading school district was more than $1,300 per student.

"Reading is the poorest city in America. They don't have the tax base or the wherewithal to make up that kind of funding cut," he says.

Crossey addressed the issue in conjunction with the celebration of American Education Week. He says it marks a good opportunity for a fresh, nonpartisan look at how the state is funding schools.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Is Corbett’s attack on Philly teachers a political move based on his secret poll?

Keystone Progress files Right to Know Law request seeking correspondence between Governor’s Office and School Reform Commission to uncover the truth

(HARRISBURG, PA) Keystone Progress (KP) has filed a Right to Know Law request with the Office of Open Records seeking:

1.    All written communications between the Office of the Governor and any member of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (i.e., Bill Greene, Sylvia Simms, Feather Houstoun, Farah Jimenez, and Marjorie Neff) from August 1, 2014 to the date this letter is received.
2.    All communications between the Office of the Governor and any staff member of the School District of Philadelphia from August 1, 2014 to the date this letter is received.

“We are filing this request for information because the recent attacks on Philadelphia’s schools by Tom Corbett’s School Reform Commission reeks of political opportunism,” said Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill. “This is especially important in light of the secret poll that the Philadelphia City Paper uncovered last year that recommended Corbett’s campaign should take on the Philly teachers as part of his re-election strategy.”

Morrill is referring to a Philadelphia City Paper article by Daniel Denvir that exposed a secret poll that recommended Corbett should attack Philadelphia teachers as “enemies.” (“Secret poll: Corbett should exploit Philly school crisis, attack teachers union for political gain,” Philadelphia City Paper, 6/19/2013)

The poll summary said, "With Governor Corbett's weak job approval, re-elect and ballot support numbers, the current Philadelphia school crisis presents an opportunity for the Governor to wedge the electorate on an issue that is favorable to him… Staging this battle presents Corbett with an opportunity to coalesce his base, focus on a key emerging issue in the state, and campaign against an 'enemy' that's going to aggressively oppose him in '14 in any case."

The pollster, Public Opinion Strategies, went on to say, “Taking on this fight moves Corbett's approval scores on handling education" and "boosts his overall approval numbers."

“This poll’s recommendation that Corbett should attack Philadelphia teachers and the recent decision by Corbett’s SRC to act on that recommendation right before the election seems to be more than coincidental,” continued Morrill. “That’s why we have filed this Right to Know Law request.”

KP believes in public accountability and regularly files Right to Know Law requests seeking information that should be available to the public.

The Governor’s office has five business days to respond to the request.


# # #

Report Critical of Corbett "Outsourcing" in Pennsylvania

PHOTO: Gov. Tom Corbett is among governors in seven states who are mentioned in a new report about outsourcing billions of dollars in state services to private contractors. Photo credit: Lucidology/iStockphoto.com
PHOTO: Gov. Tom Corbett is among governors in seven states who are mentioned in a new report about outsourcing billions of dollars in state services to private contractors. Photo credit: Lucidology/iStockphoto.com
Chris Thomas, Public News Service

HARRISBURG, PA - Shrinking government has meant shifting responsibilities to private industry in some states, and Gov. Tom Corbett is one of seven governors taken to task in a new report that correlates these outsourcing decisions with major campaign donors and mixed results for taxpayers.

In Corbett's case, the Center for Media and Democracy cited what it calls "frequent outsourcing" of legal business to private law firms and the push to privatize state liquor sales.
Economist Steve Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, said a large body of nonpartisan academic research backs the report's conclusion - that transparency is lost when services are performed by private industry.

"Any time when you have questions, legitimate questions, about public service delivery - and it's public - it's relatively easy to take the lid off, to look inside, to figure out what's going on," he said. "It's harder when you've got to pierce the veil of the private contractor."


The governors in the seven states mentioned in the report all are Republicans, but Herzenberg pointed out that Democratic governors aren't immune. He cited questions raised about the appropriateness of former Gov. Ed Rendell outsourcing some state information-technology functions to campaign donor Deloitte during his administration.

In Pennsylvania, the Keystone Research Center has studied the effects of privatization on nursing homes and on water and sewer services. Overall, Herzenberg said, the focus of shifting services should be on whether citizens are getting a good deal - and by that measure, he said, the research is clear.

"These asset sales tend to be shortsighted, in the sense that you get some money up front," he said, "but in the end, citizens pay more, much more than they would if the asset had remained public."


The report said some experts estimate $1 trillion of the $6 trillion of government spending in the United States each year is spent on private contractors.


The report is online at 
sourcewatch.org.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Pennsylvania delivering on the promise of quality, affordable health care for women?



Is Pennsylvania delivering on the promise of quality, affordable health care for women?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.


In today’s economy, families depend on both men and women to make ends meet. Women across PA are leading households and we’re doing everything we can to support our families, but the deck is stacked against them – especially when it comes to getting the health care our families need to lead healthy, prosperous lives.

The newly-released 2014 Women’s Health Report Card for PA underscores our reality: PA is failing when it comes to meeting women’s health needs, and there’s a lot more state can and should be doing to meet women’s health needs – especially for women of color.

In the report card, which ranks all 50 states on 30 measures of women’s health, including coverage, access to care, and health outcomes,PA was ranked only #22 and got a final grade of C+ -- PA only got a D grade for health care outcomes for women.
You can read the full report here.

Here's the good part -- you can make a difference.  It’s important that we let our elected officials know that PA is falling short and that they can change that.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN A LETTER ASKING OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS TO AIM HIGHER FOR PENNSYLVANIA. 

You can edit a letter that is already started for you — make it your voice and send it electronically to your elected officials with our easy-to-use system.  Just click here to add your voice.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The National ‘Put the Middle Class First’ Bus Tour Headed to Pennsylvania, To Be Joined By U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle


18-State Tour to Underscore Clear Choice Voters Face in November:
Democrats’ Middle-Out Approach to Building an Economy That Works for Everyone vs.  Tom Corbett and Mike Fitzpatrick’s Top-Down Tea Party Approach That Works Only for the Wealthy Few & Big Corporations
www.MiddleClassFirst.com
#MiddleClassFirst
Washington DC – Americans United for Change has hit the road with the national “Put the Middle Class First” bus tour to help drive home the clear choice before voters on November 4 between having a Democratic Congress that works for them or a Tea Party Congress that works for corporate special interests like the Koch brothers.  NEXT STOP: Pennsylvania onThursday, October 9 at 10am ET in Philadelphia, 1pm in Harrisburg and 5:30pm in Pittsburgh*SEE DETAILS BELOW. With the backdrop of the 45’ long ‘fair shot advocate on wheels’, Americans United will be joined byCongressman Mike Doyle, Dr. Manan Trivedi, Kevin Strouselocal labor leaders and seniors’ advocates who agree that a strong economy can only be built to last from the middle-out. The alternative? : The Top-Down Tea Party approach espoused by Gov. Tom Corbett, U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan (R-PA-07) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08) of giving more tax breaks to millionaires that never manage to create job but always manage to undermine middle class priorities like education and Medicare.

While the economy is picking up speed, many American families are still struggling to climb into the middle class and stay there. The reason: incomes have been stagnant or even shrinking for more than a decade at the same time the cost of food, child care, college, housing, retirement security, and basic necessities has soared.  That’s why all eyes are on lawmakers to make critical investments in education, innovation and infrastructure that will create more jobs, opportunity, and an economy that works for everyone. But instead, Tea Party Republicans have stood in the way of every reasonable proposal made by President Obama and Democrats to move the country forward, even if it meant shutting down the government and hurting the economy.  Instead, they have made sure this Congress has been the least productive and most beholden to the special interests in U.S. history. The Enablers: Pat Meehan voted in lock step with the Tea Party 71% of the time and Mike Fitzpatrick rubberstamped their extreme agenda 73% of the time.

Four years in a row, Meehan and Fitzpatrick helped fellow House Republicans pass a budget plan that voucherizes Medicare, slashes Medicaid, Pell grants and child care services, and shortchanges badly needed repairs to America’s crumbling bridges and roads. At the same time, the Ryan-Meehan-Fitzpatrick budget protects Big Oil subsides and gives away $5 trillion in new tax breaks for millionaires and corporations that outsource U.S. jobs. Not to be outdone, Republican Governors like Tom Corbett are enacting their own Robin Hood in Reverse policies, from tax breaks geared towards the super-wealthy, to gutting public education, to refusing to accept available Medicaid resources to cover thousands of vulnerable citizens including Veterans who living one health emergency away from bankruptcy.  The Koch brothers, Big Insurance and Wall Street are clearly very satisfied customers judging by the millions of dollars they continue to funnel into Republican campaigns like that of Corbett, Meehan, and Fitzpatrick.
In contrast, Democrats in Congress have a detailed set of proposals that put the middle class first, giving more Americans a fair shot at getting into the middle class and achieving the American Dream, including: Ensuring women receive equal pay for equal work; Making college affordable; Raising the Minimum Wage; Creating jobs by investing in infrastructure; and Protecting Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts, voucher and privatization schemes.
STOP #1:  THE ‘PUT THE MIDDLE CLASS FIRST’ BUS TOUR COMES TO PHILLY

WHO:             Dr. Manan Trivedi, Iraq War veteran and Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district
Kevin Strouse
, Democrat for Congress in Pennsylvania's 8th District
Joyce Koch of the Koch Sisters
Frank Snyder, Secretary/Treasurer of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
Wayne Burton, President, PA Alliance for Retired Americans
Alice Hoffman, Executive Board Member, PA Alliance for Retired Americans
John Meyerson, UFCW Retiree, Raise the Wage Coalition
WHERE:       Love Park, 1599 John F Kennedy Blvd, Philadelphia, PA

WHEN:          Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 10 am ET

STOP #2:  THE ‘PUT THE MIDDLE CLASS FIRST’ BUS TOUR COMES TO HARRISBURG

WHO:             Sandy Strauss, Director of Advocacy and Ecumenical Relations
Alice Hoffman, Executive Board Member, Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans
Mark Price, Labor Economist, Keystone Research Center
Mike Crossey, President, Pennsylvania State Education association
WHERE:       Pennsylvania State Capitol, 3rd St and State StHarrisburg, PA

WHEN:          Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 1 pm ET

STOP #3:       THE ‘PUT THE MIDDLE CLASS FIRST’ BUS TOUR COMES TO PITTSBURGH

WHO:             U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA 14th District) 
Thomas M. Conway, International Vice President, United Steelworkers
Rick Bloomingdale, President, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO
Carmen Marcantoni, Zone Coordinator, Pennsylvania Alliance for Retired Americans and AFSCME Retiree    
         
WHERE:       United Steel Workers60 Boulevard of the AlliesPittsburgh, PA 15222

WHEN:         Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 5:30 pm ET

Pittsburgh Security Guards Rally for Job Security

Chris Thomas, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: Kim McGowan (right) is among the security guards working for private contractors who say today's security challenges call for more training and better pay. They rallied in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Photo credit: Maria Montano.
PHOTO: Kim McGowan (right) is among the security guards working for private contractors who say today's security challenges call for more training and better pay. They rallied in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Photo credit: Maria Montano.
PITTSBURGH - Steel City security guards rallied Downtown on Wednesday to demand greater job security, and to point out many of the private contractors hired by high-rise owners or managers don't offer their workers enough training, room for advancement, or sufficient pay for the modern-day challenges security guards face.

Kim McGowan, a security guard with contractor Chesley Brown, has been patrolling the same building for 16 years. She says her experience is unusual in an industry where turnover is high due to low wages, and believes the frequent turnover heightens the need for standardized training in areas from terrorism to workplace violence.

"We are on the front lines," says McGowan. "When something happens - like a medical emergency, if somebody fell, a couple arguing at a bus stop, a fire in the building - we're the first ones there."

The security guards are not union members, but are working with 32BJ SEIU to change that. They say one of the attractions is the union has developed a 40-hour training program for private security officers that is already being used successfully in New York City. There are no current training requirements for security contractors in Pittsburgh.

McGowan says Pittsburgh's downtown vacancy rate is low, and more businesses and people in those buildings means more responsibility for public safety. She adds the guards are also convinced joining a union would ensure pay and benefits are fair for all workers.

"We're not getting treated equally," she says. "They have their favorites. We devote a lot of our time and a lot of our lives to these people. I feel we need more respect."

At yesterday's security guard rally, paramedics, firefighters and clergy members all were on hand to support their efforts.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PSEA Report: Low-Income Students Hit Hardest by Education Cut

September 3, 2014 - Tom Joseph, Public News Service (PA)

PHOTO: A new report from the state's largest public employees' union says Pennsylvania schools with the fewest resources have taken the biggest hits in terms of state education cuts. Photo credit: George Hodan/Publicdomainpictures.net.
PHOTO: A new report from the state's largest public employees' union says Pennsylvania schools with the fewest resources have taken the biggest hits in terms of state education cuts. Photo credit: George Hodan/Publicdomainpictures.net.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - The impact of budget cuts on education in Pennsylvania is being felt in schools across the state - but most notably in districts with the highest needs and lowest incomes, according to a new report from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

PSEA president Michael Crossey said the findings reinforce evidence that the fallout from trimming $1 billion from education during the Corbett administration includes drops in reading and math scores on state tests across all schools in grades 3 through 6.

"In the years right before Gov. Corbett took office, funding for education was up 39 percent and test scores went up 54 percent," Crossey said. "Now, we're looking at school funding is down significantly, and we're starting to see drops in test scores. There is a correlation."

Corbett has defended education cuts, blaming a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall that existed when he took office.

Crossey said a major stumbling block for education in Pennsylvania is the lack of a formal blueprint on how education dollars are divided among districts.

"We need to create a funding formula for our schools that, one, drives more adequacy to funding; and also, we need to talk about more equitable funding," he said.

Crossey said the report concluded that the Corbett approach to funding has undermined progress made in education in Pennsylvania. He said he believes future strategies should work to reverse that trend.

"We need to, as a state, decide that we're going to educate every child," Crossey said. "No matter how poor they are, they deserve an education and they deserve a chance at a good life, no matter where they live."

The report also found cuts to the most impoverished school districts averaged three times the size of cuts to higher-income districts, and that the student-to-teacher ratios are higher in the poorest districts as well.

The full report is online at psea.org.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Report Indicates State of Working PA Isn’t Working So Well

 
Tom Joseph, Public News Service

Job growth and economic growth remain major challenges for Pennsylvania, according the 2014 State of Working Pennsylvania report from the Keystone Research Center. Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net.
Job growth and economic growth remain major challenges for Pennsylvania, according the 2014 State of Working Pennsylvania report from the Keystone Research Center. Photo courtesy ofpublicdomainpictures.net.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania isn't making the grade in terms of job growth and economic growth in a just-
released study from the Keystone Research Center.

The 2014 State of Working Pennsylvania report gives the state a D-minus for job growth. Dr. Mark Price, labor economist with the KRC, says cuts to education in recent years have played a major role in Pennsylvania's struggles.

"You're trying to recover from a deep recession, like the Great Recession," Price says. "And then right in the middle of that recovery you get these waves of layoffs that end up being a drag on job growth; it was a drag on consumer spending and ultimately on economic growth."

The report also gave the state a B-minus for the drop in its unemployment rate since 2011, and a D-plus for its dip in underemployment. Pennsylvania received a grade of C-minus for its change in  median-hourly earnings from 2010 to 2013.

Price says passage of the $2.3 billion transportation bill helped spur job growth in the first six months of the year, but he says the move could have, and should have come earlier as timing has been an issue in the state's efforts to gain economic traction.

"There have been a lot of policy missteps, from just deliberately bad things that were done," Price says. "Laying off public sector workers, but also delays that really hurt us because we could have had faster growth earlier."

Moving forward, Price says state lawmakers need to bear in mind policies, such as Medicaid expansion, that hold huge upsides for the economy.

"That is going to be a windfall for the state, and that's certainly going to boost job growth," says Price. "We certainly would like to see more investment in infrastructure and focus on things like shale extraction and raising the tax so it's equal to what is charged in other states."

That, he says, is a good way to raise revenue.