PA Must Get Education Spending Under Control

Member Group : Guest Articles

I have spent a lot of time learning about the education system since I was elected to the Pennsylvania Senate. I have visited the majority of the schools in my district, as well as many others. I have also met with many school officials, talked to many teachers and parents, and I meet with constituents to hear their concerns. I believe it is my job to represent those concerns in Harrisburg.

I was sent to Harrisburg by taxpayers who are demanding 1) property tax reform and 2) responsible spending of their tax dollars. Unlike the governor, I am not bowing to special interests. I am also there because I’m known as a truth-teller, and my constituents expect me to tell them what’s really going on.

Every day I hear from constituents insisting that we eliminate property taxes. We have people who cannot afford to stay in their homes, including senior citizens who have paid off their homes and must rely on Social Security payments to pay their tax bill. And each year, the cost rises.

Why are our property taxes so high? Why do they increase every year? They increase in large part due to rising salaries, pensions and benefits for school employees.

I am not attacking teachers. I am attacking a system, perpetuated by the school employee union (the PSEA) that claims to be doing what is best for our children while doing nothing to address the cost drivers that are diverting money out of the classroom.

Reasonable accountability measures and competition should be a cornerstone of our education system. Without them, salary increases, lavish health benefits, and an unaffordable pension system do nothing to improve student achievement. The system that we have, and the one promoted constantly by the PSEA, is a system that also does nothing for the teacher that excels while protecting the teacher that falls short. There are teachers who will exceed expectations while teaching a classroom of 100 of the toughest-to-teach students. There are also teachers who would struggle to teach just one student at a time. I want the first teacher to make a small fortune, and I want the second teacher to find a new career that is better suited for them.

Every time your property taxes go up it is not because the cost to educate a student has increased. It is because the cost of health benefits have gone up, pension costs have increased, or union-negotiated salary increases have gone into effect. None of these things benefit students.

Even a recent report on the struggling Philadelphia School District points out that it is spending less per student than it was in 2008, yet it is spending $8,000 more per teacher for benefits than in the last three years.

It is time for the General Assembly to get serious about solving these problems. Recently, we sent Senate Bill 1 to the governor, which would reform our pension system by placing all new employees into a 401(k)-style system. This would go a long way toward at least preventing our enormous pension problem from getting worse. It was my sincere hope that the governor would stand with taxpayers rather than special interests and signs this critical reform into law. But Gov. Wolf vetoed the bill.
The bottom line is that we have a system that is broken and unsustainable. Taxpayers cannot, and should not be expected to, continue to support this level of spending while the vast majority of funds are not making it to the classroom in any meaningful way and our schools continue to underperform.

It does not matter if funding comes from property taxes or an increased income tax and/or sales tax — spending must be brought under control and accountability must become a part of the equation.
Seniority reform, contract transparency reform, and the creation of an achievement school district for our worst-performing schools are all proposals currently under consideration by the General Assembly that will help improve this system, and all are opposed by the PSEA.

I will continue to bring to light the truth, whether special interest groups like it or not. Again, I am in Harrisburg for my constituents — and all taxpayers — who are tired of scraping pennies to make ends meet for their families or for their own retirement.

State Sen. Scott Wagner is a Republican who represents the 28th Senatorial District in