Teacher Salaries and the Medieval Bloodletting of the Public Schools

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

Many people know Dave Eggers for his entertaining first book An Incredible Work of Staggering Genius. It's the story of the death of both his parents from cancer within a matter of months, and Eggers' subsequent raising of his younger brother to adulthood.

A few weeks ago, a New York Times op-ed, "The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries," introduced me to the efforts of Eggers and his colleagues to educate the public on the need to elevate the status and salaries of teachers. The op-ed starts with a compelling analogy: when the U.S. runs into challenges in military conflicts, it doesn't start pointing fingers at men and woman fighting in the trenches for low pay and little recognition. Instead, we ask questions about the performance of military leaders and whether we are providing training and supports that give soldiers a chance to succeed.br>
Eggers' work on teachers began with the 2005 book, Teachers Have It Easy, co-authored with Daniel Moulthrop and Nínive Calegari. That book led to The Teacher Salary project, which has the goal of producing a film on the challenges and critical importance of teachers. That film, The American Teacher, began showing across the country earlier in May. (The Keystone Research Center hopes to organize showings in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh — to get on a list for information on these showings, email frank@keystoneresearch.org, subject line “American Teacher.”)

The Teacher Salary Project seeks to educate Americans that this country has relatively low teacher pay compared to the most successful educational systems in the world. That's one reason it's difficult for American schools to retain their most talented teachers, especially in distressed communities. As Eggers and co-author Nínive Calegari point out in their op ed, heavy retirement in the next decade represent a golden opportunity to recruit a new generation of teachers with compensation, training, and supports essential to high-quality education.

Yet policymakers in Pennsylvania are running hard in the opposite direction. Cuts in public school funding will mean stagnant or lower pay, especially in our poorest districts. More education delivered in charter schools and private schools will mean greater inequality in pay in two senses: a bigger gap, on average, between the charter and private schools serving affluent students and those serving lower-income children; and a bigger gap, again on average, between the pay of school CEOs and principals and the pay of front-line teachers.

When public school performance predictably suffers, any chance this will be used to push privatization of education further? Heh, when the first round of medieval bloodletting doesn’t work, let’s bleed the patient a bit more.

Attention Stephanie Singer

One of the most exciting things that happened during yesterday's election was Stephanie Singer's victory for City Commissioner. And the defeat of Marge Tartaglione.

This seems like a good time to pull up this 2007 post I wrote about Marge and the changes that I think should be made at the City Commissioner's office. Maybe they will happen now.

Better voting systems and procedures can't undo apathy and cynicism about local politics, but they can help increase turnout by making it much easier to vote. And more radical interventions, like lobbying the state to allow early vote, vote by mail and same day registration, could really increase turnout in municipal elections (this at least been the experience in Oregon which votes entirely by mail).

And honestly, the election of local leaders should not be so closely tied up with the weather.

A victory for the underestimated

Yesterday in a lot of areas of Philadelphia, what I have no better or less cliched term for than the good old boys club was out in force. In areas where demographic change has left majorities and significant minorities without real representation, even historic enmities were set aside in the interest of preserving power in the hands of those who have long held it. In some races this was successful.

But I want to explicitly recognize the races where it wasn't.

Maria Quinones Sanchez, my boss, won reelection by over 20 percent without the support of most ward leaders or the city's democratic party machine. This is the same party that tells aspiring candidates to wait for open seats, because the party always supports its incumbents. Except in this case, when the incumbent is Puerto Rican and a woman and actually representing historically under- and unrepresented communities, and the challenger is deeply connected to that old boys club.

That framing may sound like oversimplification, and it's true that the election in the Seventh District was not only about race and gender and culture and class. But race and gender and culture and class mattered - they made Councilwoman Sanchez an outsider even as an incumbent. Speaking very personally, to me the deeper truth this uncovers is that you (women, disempowered minorities, progressives, poor people) will not win by playing their game. You will think you are one of the boys, and then when it actually matters - when power is challenged, when they can get away with it - ranks will close.

Maria won, handily, because she provides real representation to communities throughout her district and they cared enough to come out and vote for her. It's a direct rebuke of all of the worst of machine politics, and I hope people come to see it as an inspiration and a model.

I want to also say something about another dramatic victory by another woman who was shamefully underestimated, Blondell Reynolds Brown. Assessments of Councilwoman Reyolds Brown's chances painted her as weak, her seat at risk. Men I often hear talking - men who are involved with or follow local politics, and it's always men - almost uniformly imply that this is because she is somehow not a strong legislator, not 'effective'.

This is based on nothing. It's based on a tired, tired trope where men are allowed to judge women on their appearance as much as their performance and ideas and where an attractive women will always have her accomplishments undercut by insinuations that she did not get where she is on her own merits. And it's true that a lot of people in local politics at all levels did not in fact get there on their own merits. But it matters that the label gets stuck only sometimes, only to certain people, and looking at how and why involves facing how invidious sexism can be. I predict every man who talks to me about this post denies that sexism has anything to do with it. First take a couple minutes and seriously think about some of Councilwoman Reynold Brown's work supporting elderly people and children, on health and safety and the environment, and think hard about why you are comfortable assessing her priorities and work below every other male incumbent at-large Council member.

Yesterday she beat every single one of those at-large incumbents and candidates to come in first.

Congratulations Blondell and Maria. Let's keep proving people wrong and redefining what political power means in this city.

Maria Quinones Sanchez IS a really, really, really good Councilwoman, and we need to keep her

Tomorrow is election day. I gave you my thoughts before about Jeff Hornstein, as someone worth supporting, because of what sort of Councilman I think he will be.

Well, in another district- the 7th- there is someone else that progressives everywhere should support, because of the kind of Councilwoman she already is: Maria Quinones Sanchez.

I am extremely biased here- I know her, I like her, someone very close to me works for her, etc, but, Councilwoman Sanchez is the best. She is progressive, forward thinking, and beholden to no one. Whether it is innovative thinking on taxes, the “Freshman 15,” helping find justice for victims of massive scams, or simply being an accessible, progressive voice, she is immeasurably valuable to have on Council. We all know this, right?

All that said, the Councilwoman has a fight on her hands tomorrow, with the ward leaders in her district after her. So, if you are looking for a place to volunteer tomorrow, click here. And, if you want to help fund her GOTV effort, please donate what you can.

This is a race that has to be won, because she is a Councilwoman that we have to keep.

Why the City Commissioners’ Race Matters to Progressives

Much of our collective energy has been focused on City Council races. But over the long haul, change in the City Commissioners’ race might mean far more, and with Stephanie Singer we have the opportunity to elect someone who will ensure that our elections are conducted competently, fairly and impartially.

Building a progressive movement depends on a fair, transparent process. When corrupt politicians control the election machinery, there is no level political playing field. Last December, the Inquirer reported that

Three Council Candidates Who Will Fight Corporate Power: Cohen, Hornstein and Paulmier

Let me start by saying Neighborhoods Networks has a great slate of candidates to recommend in the Democratic Primary tomorrow. And here they are:

Kathryn Boockvar, Commonwealth Court, ballot # 102
Stephanie Singer, City Commissioner, ballot #169
Blondell Reynolds Brown, Council At-Large ballot # 179
Sherrie Cohen, Council At-Large, ballot # 180
Andy Toy, Council At-Large, ballot # 187
Jeff Hornstein, City Council, 1st District, ballot # 194
Maria Quinones Sanchez, 7th district, ballot #191
Greg Paulmier, 8th district, ballot #190

My first vote for Council at Large is going to Sherrie Cohen

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to urge you to vote for Sherry Cohen for City Council at Large in Tuesday’s primary.

There are a number of good candidates for Council at Large, including the incumbents. But Sherrie could bring something special to the office—a real commitment to building support throughout the city for progressive causes. Sherrie’s done that already, especially as a leader of the Coalition for Essential Services. With the resources of a Council, Sherrie could be even more effective in this role.

Why is this so important?

Philadelphia politics is conducted in the typical fashion of one party town—and that is the main reason politics remains broken in Philadelphia. Most decisions are made by the Mayor and Council in private discussions. Members of Council go to great pains to reach consensus and avoid public dispute.

Two bad consequences are the result. First, it is very difficult for new, innovative ideas to come before Council or to receive the kind of debate that will enlighten the public. Second, Council is very resistant to public pressure. Indeed, members of Council, are less open to public sentiment than our state legislators and members of Congress.

(As you know, I’ve run a few grassroots issue campaigns. I’ve never had a member of Congress or of the General Assembly yell at me for doing so or turn down an offer to build support for legislation they support. Council members have done that to me more than once.)

Sherrie will help change this dynamic. She will be a Council member who not only cares about the interests of the public but will work hard to work with progressive activists to build pressure on Council to make sure the public interest is served. That’s what her father—one of my role models—did on Council before her. That’s what we can expect her to do as well.

We all have five votes for Council. I’m going to use my first one to vote for Sherrie Cohen.

I hope you do as well.

Marc Stier

Want to Know What Progressive Lawyers think of the Judicial Candidates?

The Philadelphia Chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild, the bar association for progressive lawyers and legal workers, has done a survey of its members relating to the judicial candidates on the ballot next week. The NLG makes no recommendations, but presents the information to help voters make informed decisions. Click above to download it.

A Quick Take on House GOP Budget Plan

A blog post from Chris Lilienthal, originally published on Third and State.

Pennsylvania House Republican leaders unveiled a state budget plan today that cuts $470 million in health and human services for vulnerable Pennsylvanians, while leaving in tact hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to schools, full-day kindergarten, Penn State and other colleges.

The plan would restore some of the deep cuts to education proposed in Governor Corbett's budget blueprint — $387 million to the 18 state-supported colleges and universities and $210 million to public schools.

Is there a way out of the District's budget hole?

(I'll be on Radio Times from 10-11 a.m. this morning talking about the District budget crisis. Calls are welcome!)

The School District's plan to close the huge budget gap undermines the very bedrock of what we know works in education: early childhood supports, full-day kindergarten, transportation, a manageable class size.

But when the District is faced with a deficit of more than $600 million, are there better solutions?

Much of the public’s attention has been rightly focused on Harrisburg. But no matter what comes out of the final state budget debate, both the city government and the District also need a multi-tiered, short- and long-term approach toward addressing finances. The District also needs some serious re-consideration of the type of leadership that will help us get there.

First, Philadelphia needs a grassroots coalition-building approach toward Harrisburg. District officials have been organizing a series of bus trips and rallies to the state capital to protest the governor’s budget. But local leaders ought to know that actions which include only Philadelphians and feature the controversy-laden District in a prominent role will have limited impact.

The stronger tactic is to build alliances with districts and education supporters across the state, all of whom have benefited from improved funding for schools. This type of alliance helped win the historic Rendell-era funding formula in the first place. In a political environment that is so jaded about Philadelphia's needs, a coalition approach is needed more than ever.

Second, the city needs to re-establish its financial responsibility to the school district. Several years ago a group I co-founded, Parents United for Public Education, worked with others to secure a higher share of city real estate revenue for the schools. City Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. sponsored a bill that increased the District's share from 58 to 60 percent and brought in an additional $10 million to the schools at the time.

Under the Nutter administration, we have seen that share decline from 60 percent to 55 percent, a difference of almost $60 million, according to the District’s finance office. Although property taxes have increased, the City's contribution to schools has reverted back to 2007-8 levels. The City has also held onto sacred cows like uber-generous tax abatements. An

Inquirer analysis done in 2008 said that by 2012 the schools would have forfeited at least $109 million due to tax abatements. Our schools don’t see a dime of profit from the program until 2025.

The mayor needs to take a proactive approach about the local funding of schools in the deepest financial crisis to face our schools. The city must decide on an additional allocation to help the District address the immediate budget gap. The mayor should support re-establishing the 60 percent property tax share to schools and easing the financial impact of the tax abatement program.

Jeff Hornstein would be a really, really, really good Councilman

It is election season around here. In 2007, back when we (Jennifer, Ray, myself, etc.) were just youngsters, with not a care in the world, YPP was a hopping place for elections. This year, with no Mayoral race, and many of the regular writers prevented from writing nearly as often (or as opinionated), this has been quieter. Still, I don’t want to have the entire election season slip away without making a couple of personal comments about the candidates.

The First District race has gotten some mild attention, where there is a race to replace the retiring Frank DiCicco. There is no question in my mind that there is a clear choice here, with a candidate who would be a great, great City Councilman: Jeff Hornstein. I am far from rich, but, I have donated what I can to Jeff, and, after I click post, I plan to do so again.

Why Jeff? He is a progressive running for office who, when asked why someone should vote for him, can do more than say he has the right values, or that he is smart, or that he checks the right boxes on a questionnaire. Instead, he can point to years of fighting for and with working class Philadelphians, for progressive labor, for machine-challenging political candidates, and more. (SEIU, with Jeff as a driving force there, is probably one of two unions in the city that have made impactful endorsements for upstart political candidates.) Jeff would not just bring a new, smart outlook- he would be a progressive organizer, put into a position where he could advance smart ideas to make our city a better place.

Jeff is endorsed by almost every progressive group out there. He does the work. He has the values. When there has been a fight for progressive policies in the city, Jeff has been there. If he wins, he will still be there, but with a much larger platform. He is the real deal. He is worth your support.

Of course, the race has another progressive in it- Joe Grace. Many Philly liberals, along with the past couple of Mayors, like him. He was ED of Ceasefire PA, a crucially important organization that does good work. He knows his way around City Hall. I think he would probably be pretty good at the job.

There is also Mark Squilla. I don’t know a ton about him. That he can so easily unite the South Philly Hatfields and McCoys, after a quick meeting with Bob Brady, is mildly scary, and a win very much reinforces the power of the old school South Philly political powers. Still, I don’t have anything bad to say about him, and his proposed agenda looks generally good. I simply know very little about him, and have no idea what kind of Councilman he would be.

At its core, this is not about the other guys, but about Jeff. When one of our city’s many unsung progressives, who has been doing great, courageous work for years, decides to run for office, I jump.

Time to get out the battered credit card…

How Corbett tricked the protesters at the last Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission hearing

This video is just 88 seconds and its great. At Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory hearing last week, they set out two sign-up sheets for public comment. Only, they told the industry about one and the protesters about the other.

Guess which one they went to first?

In this video, a woman from Pittsburgh calmly and clearly confronts a Corbett Administration spokesperson about the trick. She comes off as smart, guts and reasonable. He comes off like someone who just got caught stealing an extra piece of cake at Church Camp.

Cohen, Goode and Reynolds-Brown get the green nod in At-Large race

Reynolds-Brown, Goode and Cohen get the green vote
Clean Water Action releases its endorsed candidates in the at-large City Council election

(Philadelphia) – This morning, Clean Water Action released its list of endorsed candidates in Democratic Primary for At-Large Council Seats. The environmental organization with almost 8,000 registered voters in its membership in the city is supporting Councilwoman Blondell Reyolds-Brown, Councilman Wilson Goode, Jr. and Sherrie Cohen. Speaking outside City Hall this morning, environmentalists stood alongside these three endorsed candidates to show their commitment to an environmental agenda.

Brady Russell, Eastern PA Director for Clean Water Action said, “We decided we were only going to support candidates for these seats who got 100% on our environmental questionnaire. We wanted to throw our support to a small group of candidates who were willing to make the strongest commitment to the environment. With the support of the Southeast Pennsylvania Steering Committee, we decided these three were the right choices to recommend to our members.”

The Chamber of Commerce is A Collection of People Right? Then Why Isn't the Chamber Crying for Our Kids?

So the Chamber of Commerce-elected Governor and Legislature are bound and determined to kill all-day kindergarden in Philadelphia. Of course, the Chamber won't say it that way. But that's the effect of its actions in demonizing public spending, public employees, and, especially, public schools that have the temerity to . . . of all things . . .employ teachers. Its massive spending in the last cycle was all about electing Republicans everywhere whose overriding mission would be the destruction of the public sphere, except in those cases where the public sector could be given away . . . to members of the Chamber of Commerce.

Millionaire Tax Didn't Chase the Rich From Jersey, So Why Not a Higher Tax Rate on Pa.'s Top Earners?

A blog post from Stephen Herzenberg, originally published on Third and State.

Anti-tax advocates maintain that higher tax rates on the wealthy lead to millionaire flight. But a study of a 2004 “millionaire tax” in New Jersey shows that, in fact, the rich don’t move to avoid higher taxes.

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