Editor’s Note: This article inaugurates a new Raging Chicken Press series by the same name: Smashing Apples. This series will focus on the ongoing attacks against public education from kindergarten through higher education both in the Pennsylvania region and across the country.
Two weeks ago, the Chicago Teachers Union ended its one-week strike. Over 26,000 teachers and staff took the difficult, but necessary step to exercise their collective power to insist that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Public Schools administration abandon their attempts to push the CPS toward further privatization and deprofessionalizaton of teachers. Kindergarten teachers stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their high school colleagues – every public school in Chicago saw strong and proud picket lines, the streets were filled with 20,000 – 50,000 union members and their supporters almost everyday of the strike, and CTU bright-red spread from the streets of Chicago to twitter feeds and Facebook profiles.
Much has been reported about CTU president Karen Lewis’s “brashness” or her “boldness” as the leader the union and how the teachers’ strike was caused by the stubbornness of two intractable personalities – Karen Lewis in one corner, Rahm Emanuel in the other. A good story, for sure, but such reporting neglects the fact that public education – once seen as a core commitment of American society – is under assault. Karen Lewis and members of the CTU saw this day coming. Rahm Emanuel just happened to be the guy who decided to escalate the conflict. As CTU member Jay Rehak told Chicago Tribune reporters, Karen Lewis has been “talking this talk for a number of years. She will not cower.”
CTU’s direct action hearkens back to the foundation of the union in 1937 as American Federation of Teachers Local 1 following the revolt of teachers against bankers during the Great Depression. A 1933 New York Times article on the teachers’ action began like this:
CHICAGO, April 24. – Five thousand militant teachers, approaching the boiling point over having to work without pay, laid siege today to five big Loop banks.
Wearing arm bands to show that they were ten months behind in salaries due from the Chicago School Board, they stormed the doors of the banks, demanding help toward the resumption of regular paydays.
After leaving the banks several hundred of the marchers shoved into the reception room at the offices of Mayor Kelly, where Governor Horner and city and county officials were in conference over the tax situation.
Like the CTU’s recent show of strength, the 1933 teachers’ revolt took place in the wake of a financial disaster with a sitting Democratic Party Mayor. The “boldness” that is used to criticize as much as praise Karen Lewis’s public presence as a teachers union leader, conjures the specter of public school teachers’ historic struggles to gain dignity and respect in their workplaces – no different from workers in other industries. The virtual lack of labor education in the U.S. allows each generation to conveniently forget whose shoulders we stand upon and the sacrifices made by those who came before us. Those public school teachers that radical Republicans across the country are targeting as the cause of our economic problems only became problems once they organized and demanded their bread and roses. On his radio show, Rick Smith tells a story about a teacher friend of his. His friend said that “everyone used to love us when we were poor. As long as little Johnny brought us an apple for our lunch – because we could not afford lunch – people loved us. Once we decided that we should be able to buy our own apple, or, God forbid, have a peach or a pear for lunch on occasion, people started to hate us.” Our collective forgetting of our labor histories has led us to pit those who wield hammers against those who wield chalk, those who spend their days building bridges against those who are building children’s knowledge and imagination. After hitting the snooze button for decades, we are now being forced to wake up and face our specters – and hopefully we will have the sense to greet them as respected ancestors, not nightmares.
Like it or not, we don’t have time to sit around and naval gaze. We have to make a decision. Will we stand up and stop the assault on public education, or will we roll over? We have seen workers and citizens rise up against attacks on the public sector and unions, most notably in Wisconsin and Ohio. We’ve seen a reemergence of direct action and reclaiming of public spaces through the Occupy movement. Yes, there have been real reasons to hope that people are beginning to say “Enough is enough!” But, history should remind us that struggles are not won by a single, mass-mobilization. They take years of sustained organizing.
Pennsylvania as Ground Zero in War Against Public Education?
You’d be right to suspect that I already have my answer to this question. I believe that Pennsylvania is a key front – if not the key front – in the battle over public education. I think Pennsylvania is ground zero because unlike cuts to education in other states, the Pennsylvania legislature under the leadership of Governor Grover Norquist…errr….I mean Governor Tom Corbett, has led a cradle to the grave gutting of public education. Writing in the Morning Call on September 26th, Bill White lists Corbett’s “Every Child Left Behind” best of:
- School budgets across Pennsylvania in tatters thanks to Corbett’s billion-dollar cut in state education funding that sent teachers to the unemployment lines, class sizes soaring and scores of successful programs to the cutting room.
- Charter schools — the largest of which in Pennsylvania features one of Corbett’s most generous campaign contributors as its CEO — being promoted as the next great thing while they’re operating with virtually no control over the economic and educational viability of their operations.
- Tumbling statewide scores on standardized tests, which Corbett’s education secretary says couldn’t possibly have resulted from shrunken teaching and tutoring staffs and denying the youngest test-takers their own teachers to help them through their first formal testing, but rather are exclusively the result of heightened “security” measures to prevent what state officials consider cheating and some school officials say is not.
- A continued push for legislation that diverts more money from public education to private and parochial schools.
- Giant cuts in funding for state colleges.
- Abandonment of a hard-won commitment to use costing-out studies to ensure students in poorer districts aren’t shortchanged.
- Reductions in funding for early childhood education when pretty much everyone will tell you that’s incredibly short-sighted.
White suggests that “all of this could have been even worse if the Legislature hadn’t restored some of Corbett’s proposed cuts.” While I get what he’s saying, I’m not going to be nearly as generous to our Legislature. You see, the idea that the “PA Legislature restored some of Corbett’s proposed cuts,” makes no sense. Why? Because the Governor only proposes a budget. It is up to the Pennsylvania General Assembly to review the Governor’s budget and issue a General Appropriation Bill. The peculiarities of the PA budget process does grant a significant amount of authority to the Governor in the budget process. However, it is not accurate in my mind to position the PA legislature as heroes who “restored” some funding. It would be more accurate to say, for example, that the PA Legislature decided to cut funds to the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) by 20 percent instead of 50 percent. Or better, the PA Legislature issued legislation that called for a 20 percent cut to PASSHE. A legislature that cuts funds to public education by 20 percent has not acted heroically.
What has this meant in practice? According to a Patriot-News Op-Ed, a $1 billion dollar cut to K-12 schools in 2010-2011. That cut was maintained for the 2011-2012 year. It has meant eliminating $94 million used to pay for full-day kindergarten and class reduction. The cuts to public schools resulted in the loss 14,178 public school jobs that budget year. According to the April 2012 survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), school districts were planning for even deeper cuts for fall 2012. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on the survey reported:
Nearly half of the responding districts said they will be in financial distress within three years if state and local funding doesn’t get better…
…Three-fourths of those responding plan to furlough employees or not fill open positions in the fall. More than half reported a wage freeze in 2011-12.
Some of the cost reductions include larger class sizes and fewer classes in art, music, physical education, Advanced Placement and other electives. Some are delaying buying textbooks, and some are cutting back on field trips, extra-curricular activities, tutoring, summer school and full-day kindergarten.
The loss of so many jobs does not even consider the number of college students majoring in education who have been unable to get a job or who have been forced to take jobs in other states due to flooding the market with more experienced teachers.
This past Monday, October 1, PASA and PASBO released the results of their August 2012 Survey and found that the picture has only gotten worse. The report found that school districts made deep cuts for a second year in a row. School districts were forced to “increase class size and reduce course offerings,” reduce “tutoring assistance and summer school,” “reduce supplemental learning opportunities such as field trips” and extracurricular programs including sports, and “reduce personnel costs by contracting out non-instructional services such as food service, transportation, and maintenance.”
The report accurately states that school district officials have been forced into these austerity measures by the Governor’s deep cuts to public education. But the fast-and-furious approach to gutting public education has led cuts that will most likely cost these districts more in the long-term. Take the penchant for school districts to contract out services to save money. A September 2011 report by the non-partisan Project on Government Oversight (POGO) found that contracting out federal government services actually costs taxpayers more. As reported in the New York Times,
Despite a widespread belief that contracting out services to the private sector saves the federal government money, a new study suggests just the opposite — that the government actually pays more when it farms out work.
The study found that in 33 of 35 occupations, the government actually paid billions of dollars more to hire contractors than it would have cost government employees to perform comparable services. On average, the study found that contractors charged the federal government more than twice the amount it pays federal workers.
School officials look to contract out work based on this “widespread belief” that they are saving their districts money. But the fact is, these moves will not save money. It’s true that the workers who will be hired by corporate contractors will most likely be paid significantly less than School District employees. However, as the POGO study suggests, when you focus on what the School Districts will actually pay to outside contractors and not just the wages of employees, the Districts will end up paying more. Welcome to the Shock Doctrine on a local level.
Perhaps the most shocking findings of the PASBO/PASA report, however, has to do with the direct effect Corbett’s Cuts are having on the quality of K-12 education. The report argues:
It should not be a surprise to anyone that in the same year that school funding was cut by $930 million, forcing 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s school districts to increase class size, 44 percent to reduce elective course offerings, 35 percent to reduce or eliminate programs that provide extra help or tutoring for struggling students, 20 percent to eliminate summer school, and other cuts directly impacting student learning, that Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results show a statewide decline in test scores and in the number of school districts and schools that made AYP, respectively. The percentage of students statewide scoring proficient or advanced declined 1.4 percentage points in math and 1.6 percentage points in reading from the 2010-11 results. It is also important to note that, at the same time, proficiency targets set by the state Department of Education for districts and schools to meet were increased by 11 percentage points in math and nine percentage points in reading. For the state Department of Education to solely attribute the decline in statewide test scores for the nearly 900,000 tests administered to 100 cases of potential wrong-doing is at best disingenuous. We suggest the declines are a symptom of the cumulative, draconian cuts of the past two years.
I hate to bombard you with statistics, but I can’t think of any better way to drive home the point about what is actually going on. There is a full-scale assault on public education in Pennsylvania. Again, from the PASBO/PASA report:
- Four percent (or 8 school districts)…have reduced/eliminated pre-kindergarten. This is in addition to the six percent…that reduced/eliminated pre-kindergarten in 2011-12.
- Two percent (or 6 school districts)…have reduced/eliminated full-day kindergarten. Five percent…reduced/eliminated full-day kindergarten in 2011-12.
- Fifty-one percent indicated they have increased class-size. This is on top of larger class sizes imposed by 70 percent of school districts in 2011-12.
- Forty-three percent reduced elective course offerings such as those in foreign languages, arts, music, physical education and even some course in math, science, English and the social studies. Elective courses were already reduced…by 44 percent of school districts in 2011-12.
- [Ready for this one?] Forty percent have delayed textbook purchases. This is on top of the 41 percent of school districts that already delayed textbook purchases last year.
- Thirty-two percent of school districts indicated they have reduced or eliminated programs that provide extra help or tutoring to struggling students. Thirty-five percent of districts statewide said they had already decreased tutoring/additional instruction time in 2011-12.
- Twenty-one percent eliminated their summer school programs in 2012-2013. Summer school allows students [to] make up the necessary credits to allow them [to] stay on grade level and to graduate on time. Nineteen percent of school districts eliminated summer school in 2011-12
- Thirty percent of respondents reduced their workforce through furloughs, with teachers making up nearly the majority (47 percent) of positions furloughed.
- If extrapolated to the state as a whole, [school districts] have eliminated or left vacant nearly 4,200 positions. PASBO/PASA had estimated in August 2011 that school districts eliminated or left vacant nearly 14,590 positions in school year 2011-12, or 20,000 in two years.
Add the nearly 89,000 children that Corbett and the legislature kicked off Medicaid and the Governor’s continued attempts to gut early childhood education and you’ve got the making for a full-scale assault on public education and the next generation of Pennsylvanians. I don’t know how you can see it as anything but that. And let’s not forget, that Corbett and the PA legislature has made such drastic cuts in education on the grounds that the State is in a fiscal crisis. Really? How then can you explain Corbett’s recent give back to chemical refiners like the Shell Corporation for a “cracker” plant? That’s right, Tom “Dude, I’m Broke” Corbett and his lap dogs in the PA Legislature are giving away $1.7 billion in tax credits to Shell over 25 years. As the Huffington Post reports, this will give Shell virtually no tax liability in Pennsylvania – that is, we – yes, we taxpayers – will be paying Shell for the privilege of having them refine chemicals on our land.
I think Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne County) had it right when she told reporters, “We’ve already giving away the store to the Marcellus Shale Industry. Now we’re proposing to give away billions of tax dollars?” Yes, Rep. Mundy, we are. And, we’re doing it on the backs of Pennsylvania students.
APSCUF Contract: The Next Fight is Brewing
The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), represents the more than 6,000 faculty and coaches of the 14 universities that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Kutztown University, where I work, is a PASSHE university and I am an active member of my union. PASSHE is the 10th largest university system in the United States and the 43rd largest in the world. Nearly 120,000 students enter PASSHE university classrooms each year. And, right now, we are in the midst of what could prove to be a historic fight over the future of public education in the Commonwealth and, quite possibly, the nation. If Pennsylvania higher education faculty didn’t want to be on the front lines of a systematic attack against public education, they’re there now.
APSCUF’s most recent contract expired on June 30, 2011 and faculty have continued to work without a contract as our negotiations team made what we hoped to be slow but steady progress toward an agreement. Any illusion of progress was shattered at our state-wide Legislative Assembly in Harrisburg a week an a half ago. APSCUF president, Steve Hicks and our Chief negotiator, Stuart Davidson both addressed the Assembly on Friday, reporting that there is no way of sugar-coating where we are. Davidson said that from his perspective, PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh has sought to “virtually gut our collective bargaining agreement” from the beginning of negotiations. He is seeking to “eliminate faculty’s role in governance,” “shift $8 million in health care costs onto faculty,” and to go after the structure of the State System itself. While PASSHE has about half a billion dollars in reserves, the Chancellor continues to insist that PASSHE is broke and he refuses to allow a contract similar to the contract offered to other PASSHE unions. Davidson suggested that he is left with the conclusion that the Chancellor sees this negotiations as an opportunity to “break the union and gain the national spotlight for himself.” At one point, Davidson said, “We cannot allow ourselves to be led quietly to the slaughter at let him get himself on the national stage.” Both Davidson and APSCUF state leadership have come to view our contract negotiations in the same category as the recent Chicago teachers’ strike and Wisconsin Gov. Walker’s attempt to strip public unions of their collective bargaining rights.
Frankly, I think Davidson and APSCUF state leadership have got it right. Last week APSCUF negotiators released PASSHE’s “negotiation objectives” – a 36 point agenda to fundamentally remake the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and turn it into a model for undoing of public university systems. The most telling feature of PASSHE’s objectives has to do with a restructuring of faculty work. And there is good reason for beginning there if you want to break our union and change the nature of PASSHE universities. Despite a series of contentious contract negotiations and some significant blows to the protections in our contract, APSCUF has remained pretty much the gold standard when it comes to equity for and protection of “temporary” or adjunct faculty. As the AAUP reported in their 2011-2012 Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, “contingent academics (full-time non-tenure-track and part-time faculty members, along with graduate student employees) made up more than 75 percent of the total instructional staff as of fall 2009, the last year for which comparable data are available.” Not only is that significant in its own right, but when you consider that in 1975 only 22 percent of college and university faculty were contingent academics, you can begin to see the big picture about what has happened to the academic workforce in higher education.
The fact is that APSCUF’s contract currently limits the percentage of contingent academics – “temporary faculty” in the language of our contract – to 25%. That’s right, the APSCUF contract has been able to hold the number of contingent academics to a percentage close to 1975 levels. Just as significant, if not more so, is that the vast majority of “temporary faculty” are full-time and receive benefits on par with tenure and tenure-track colleagues. “Temporary faculty” members are also paid just about on-scale with their tenure-track colleagues – with the exception that at most PASSHE universities, they do not receive “steps” for years of service; they do, however, receive the same cost-of-living increases as their tenure-track colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, the APSCUF contract is far from perfect when it comes to issues facing contingent academics, but there is no doubt that we have been able to hold strong against the tide of contingency that has swept U.S. colleges and universities.
If the Chancellor and PASSHE administrators get what they want, then all of that will change.
Chancellor Cavanaugh has proposed introducing a new class of faculty: “lectures.” PASSHE faculty already teach four classes per semester, which is a heavy load to begin with. Lectures would be asked to teach a 5-5 load with no additional compensation. Both lecturers and “temporary” faculty would be taken off the standard faculty pay scale and paid instead on “a separate market (east, central, west Pennsylvania regions) on a competitive basis.” For anyone familiar with contracts, you can see exactly what’s going on here. First, one thing that is critical to understand is that a 5-5 load is for a FTE -Full-Time Equivalent – lecturer. What that means in practice is that one FTE lecturer position could be staffed by five different people each teaching only one class. Second, by creating a lecturer class of faculty the state does not need to provide any benefits under our current contract since there is no language in the contract referring to lecturers. Third, the Chancellor is attempting to drive a wedge between full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty in a classic Divide-and-Conquer move. The Chancellor and his lieutenants at the negotiations table know exactly what they’re doing and they know that the public is still convinced that we are in an “economic crisis,” so this is their shot. Shock Doctrine for PASSHE.
At our Legislative Assembly, our Chief negotiator said that he’s been forced to come to the conclusion that even if all the people at the negotiating table came to an agreement, the State – the Chancellor – will not agree to a contract, because they don’t want a contract. The Chancellor is making a power grab and is going after the core of our contract and the very structure of the State System. And frankly, I think the Chancellor is counting on two things. First, I think he is counting on APSCUF members not having the same courage and determination of all those public school kindergarten teachers in Chicago that took to the streets with their public school colleagues to say “Enough!” Second, he is counting on full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty to be concerned only about their own narrow self-interest and be willing to sell-out their “temporary” colleagues in order to keep what little is left of the jobs they once knew.
And there’s gauntlet: do we – as APSCUF members, as public school teachers, as students, and citizens of the Commonwealth – do we stand up? Or, do we roll over. Do we finally wake up from our long sleep, or will we hit the snooze button again? Will we finally reject that divide-and-conquer tactics that have been used against us for decades and embrace our common fight, or will we succumb to the soundbite politics of our day? I’m putting my money on my fellow APSCUF members, students, teachers, and citizens standing up with one simple, unifying message: “Enough is Enough!” I am counting on us embracing the specters from our history that the Chicago Teachers Union conjured up.
Smashing Apples – That’s What It’s All About
The apple has long been associated with the teaching profession. What the Governor of Pennsylvania has done to public education since he took office in 2011 and what Chancellor Cavanaugh is attempting to do to APSCUF’s contract and PASSHE itself amounts to a very public display of apple smashing. And these two characters have no desire to make cider or applesauce. They seek only to break the spirit of those who have chosen to dedicate their lives to teaching the next generation. And if they win, they can hand over our common resources, our PUBLIC schools and universities to the profiteers.
Funny thing about smashing apples, though. When you start smashing apples, you tend to attract wasps – yellow jackets, in particular. And yellow jackets tend to be a little aggressive, especially in the fall when the weather is getting colder and they are all converging on the few remaining sources of nourishment left. Sure, if you might be able to tolerate a few yellow jackets around a couple of smashed apples. The problem for our PA apple-smashers is that they’ve been smashing bushels of apples right next to the nest. And it’s getting cold. And as far as that nest of yellow jackets knows, that bushel of apples they just brought their hammers down upon is the last one left.
Kevin Mahoney is the founder and Editor Zero of Raging Chicken Press. He teaches at Kutztown University, is a union activist, and is mad as hell