Posts Tagged ‘public funding’

How Public Unions Organize on the Taxpayer’s Nickel

October 3, 2012

Public Unions Exploit the Ruse of ‘Official Time’

Government employees get paid to spend time on the job working on union projects that they don’t disclose to managers or the public.

Imagine thousands of government employees reporting to work each morning at their government offices and then doing no government work. They use government workspace, government telephones and government computers, all while working on projects unknown and unidentified to their government employers. They receive hefty taxpayer-funded salaries, promotions, bonuses and benefits, plus generous government pensions when they retire—all without doing any work on behalf of the taxpayer. Instead, they work as paid political operatives for powerful government unions.
Welcome to the common practice of “official time.” Sometimes called “release time,” it’s a mechanism by which the government pays union officials to work on union matters during their government workdays. This mechanism—enshrined in law and contracts—is an enormous subsidy to public-employee unions, who defend it fiercely.
The Office of Personnel Management reports that federal employees spent over three million hours on official time in 2010, costing the taxpayers about $137 million in salary and benefits costs.
At the federal level, about 77% of official time (as reported to the OPM) is spent on “general labor-management,” a broad catchall for union activity other than contract negotiations or dispute resolution, which are the activities most directly related to employee representation. But when more than three-quarters of all official time is used for unspecified activities, red flags should be raised.
Some union officials split their time between union work and government work. Others, amazingly enough, work exclusively on union business while getting paid for their government “jobs,” and may not even show up at their government jobs for months at a time. The Department of Homeland Security alone had 62 employees on full-time official time as of July 2011, according to the department’s disclosure. It’s not clear how many other federal employees are on official time all the time, since the OPM doesn’t require federal departments and agencies to report that figure. The less that is reported, the harder it is to discover abuse.
The only thorough report on official time at the federal level was released in 1998, when the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee required the OPM to do so. At that time, 946 federal employees were on full-time official time, with another 912 spending at least 75% of their days on official time. Today the overall number is a mystery, because no law requires the federal government to disclose it.
States and municipalities don’t generally track official time for their employees, much less disclose it, so data on the subject are hard to come by. But based on the total number of unionized workers at all levels of government and the reported levels of official time in the federal government from 2010, we can estimate that American taxpayers are paying for some 23 million total hours of official time every year, at a cost of more than $1 billion. And that doesn’t include free government office space, equipment and services used by union officials.
All this persists even though 47 states have “gift clauses” in their constitutions that prohibit government subsidies to private entities. In June, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute successfully challenged official time for Phoenix police union officials. Arizona’s Superior Court enjoined the practice, concluding that official time violated Arizona’s gift clause because the union, not the city, “determines how the money is spent, by whom, and when.”
Such challenges to official time are in their infancy—another is pending in Albuquerque, N.M.—but with time they should become more widespread. (In a sign of enduring union power, though, Phoenix signed a new contract with the police union in July that included official time; the Goldwater Institute has filed for a second injunction.)
Why should official time exist at all? Government-employee unions argue that because they represent many workers who don’t become members, they should be subsidized by our government. But if workers don’t value union representation enough to join the union, why should taxpayers pay for it?
Official time is a ruse for getting taxpayers to support union activities in the government workplace, including the lobbying of legislators for ever-more benefits. This effectively subsidizes unions so they can spend more dues income on political organizing. And it’s all done without taxpayers’ knowledge. It’s a shadowy practice that must be stopped.
Mr. Factor, a professor of international politics and American government at The Citadel, is author of “Shadowbosses: Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind,” recently published by Center Street

Romney on DC Vouchers

May 30, 2012

The Republican endorses the D.C. scholarship program.

President Obama has done better on education than on any other domestic issue, especially in supporting charter schools. But campaigns are about contrasts, and on Wednesday Mitt Romney drew a welcome one by supporting school vouchers.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., the GOP candidate endorsed the district’s voucher program that the Obama Administration has tried to kill despite its clear success: “In the Opportunity Scholarships, the Democrats finally found the one federal program they are willing to cut. Why? Because success anywhere in our public schools is a rebuke to failure everywhere else. That’s why the unions oppose even the most common-sense improvements.”

Right on all counts. With their voucher lifeline, D.C. students began outperforming public-school peers in reading and graduating at rates above 90%, as opposed to 55% in public schools. The program is hugely popular among parents and attracts more than four applicants for every spot. It even saves money, as each voucher is worth about half the $18,000 that D.C. generally spends per student.

With White House support, Democrats killed the program in 2009, and the Administration even rescinded scholarships already promised to 216 families. Last year House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman revived the vouchers, but Mr. Obama’s 2013 budget zeroes out funding again.

Mr. Romney’s voucher embrace marks progress from his days in Massachusetts, when his support for school choice ended at charters. It also reveals how much the education reform debate has advanced, as the choice movement expands and more parents demand better options for their children. New York City charter schools, we learned this week, received 133,000 applications for the 14,600 seats they have available next year.

In any other business or service in America, entrepreneurs would be able to meet that demand. Only in public education are they stymied by union politics. Mr. Romney has the moral and political high ground on vouchers, and we hope he keeps it up.

A version of this article appeared May 24, 2012, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Romney on Vouchers.

Strategy: Short-term Goals vs. Long-term Goals

February 2, 2011

These are the long-term goals of Texans for Parental Choice in Education.

Long-term Goal 1

Every family in Texas, who pays taxes for public education and pays for any product or service to further the learning of their school-aged child, would be compensated for that expense with a dollar for dollar credit against their personal public-education-tax, up to some generous ceiling.

Long-term Goal 2

There would be a network of private, charitable, scholarship organizations that gave scholarships to needy students to attend the private school of their parents’ choice, and any public-education-taxpayer, including corporations, could donate to one of these scholarship organizations and be compensated with a dollar for dollar tax credit.

Long-term Goal 3

Finally, the attempts by the enemies of educational liberty to obstruct those liberties would be defeated.

☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺

But now back to the unfortunate reality. ☹ ☹ ☹ How do we get from here to that wonderful vision?

This report is about strategy. What are the logical steps and short-term goals that will lead to the long-term goal described above?

Option 1: All-out Frontal Assault

This strategy would say that, with our conservative legislature, an all-out assault on the unions with a universal property tax-credit bill is the obvious strategy. Unfortunately there are three problems with this strategy.

Problem 1: The ISD Property Tax

During the legislative session of 2009, Rep. Paxton agreed to submit a property tax-credit bill for educational expenses to Legislative Counsel.  To my amazement and frustration, Legislative Counsel never returned a draft.  Not during that session, not during the rest of 2009, and not before October 2010 did I hear from them.  Finally in October of 2010, one of the attorney’s at Legislative Counsel called me directly and told me that because the ISD property tax was complicated by the addition of robin-hood’s complex and perverse formulas for tax-fund flows from district to district and from the state comptroller to districts, it had become so complex that they, the team of lawyers, could not write a ISD property tax-credit law!  That’s right, the law had become so complex and perverse, a law to give a credit off of this tax could not be written.

Short-term Goal 1 for Problem 1: Replace the ISD property tax with a Simple State Tax

The first project is to abolish the ISD property tax and replace it with a simple statewide tax. There aren’t many choices.  A state income tax and a state property tax are both unconstitutional in Texas.  The only two taxes left are a Value-added Tax, which is a hidden tax, or an expansion of the state sales tax.  The expansion of the state sales tax is the obvious choice.  It is simple, visible, voluntary, and flat.

We currently have a state sales tax, but it does not raise enough funds to replace the ISD property tax.  Rather than replacing the ISD property tax by dramatically raising the sales tax rate from its current 6.25%, it is better to broaden the tax.  Texas has many services that do not charge sales tax. By broadening the sales tax to include these un-taxed services, more tax funds can be raised without dramatically raising the tax rate.

Texas does have a state corporate-franchise tax, this tax can be used for a scholarship organization tax-credit, but not a family tax-credit (since corporations don’t have children. :)

Problem 2: The TSTA’s & AFT’s Grassroots Network

The Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) and the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) are the two major ISD employee associations.  In Texas, these associations (unions) cannot call a strike and they cannot make membership a requirement for employment or advancement.  So these unions are not as strong as they are in northern states where they can do these things.  In spite of that these unions are still very powerful in Texas.

The unions oppose charter schools, voucher programs, and tax-credit programs for a very simple reason.  All these innovations represent a direct threat to their income stream of member dues, because teachers in charter and private schools are not members of the TSTA or AFT.  The priority of the unions is not effective learning or even good teachers.  It is member dues.

The main political power of the TSTA & AFT is not money.  Since a majority of ISD employees are members of these organizations, they have a huge grassroots network in every county in Texas and they keep that network politically organized.  Although the elections of 2010 saw a great resurgence of conservatives in Texas, this network of ISD employees is powerful and tenacious.  They have not given up and will not go away easily.  I am sure that they are regrouping and preparing for a counter-attack.

In order to have any long-term success against the unions, we must match their network with our own network of passionate parents, teachers, and citizens who can clearly identify the enemy and are willing to invest time and resources to fight the war for the sake of the kids and the future of Texas.  I believe our grassroots organization has to be bipartisan and much bigger in order to have long-term victory.  How do we build such a network?

Problem 3: The Unions’ Strategic “Con Game”

In addition to their extensive grassroots organization, the unions’ successful strategy for the last 20 years has also included a huge “con game.”  They siphon the public school budget for themselves by adding unnecessary administrators and staff, which increases their member dues, but claim that they are focused on educating the kids and helping the neighborhood.  This lie only works because most low-income parents are suffering in silence, and this silence doesn’t contradict the union lies.

This lie is what the unions effectively hide behind.  If we propose an all out assault with a universal tax-credit program, the unions will complain that, “You right-wing bigots are trying to take the money away from the schools that are helping the poor inner-city kids.”  This lie has worked in the past, and it will work again, as long as the inner-city parents are silent.  How do we give inner-city parents a voice?

Short-term Goal 2 for Problems 2 & 3: Energizing Inner-city Parents with the “Parent Trigger”

If we can energize the sleeping giant of the inner-city parents, we can solve problems 2 & 3 at the same time.  So how do we energize them?

Inner-city parents have only one “education reform” goal.  They want their public school down the block where their child goes to school to improve.  Any goal bigger than that seems irrelevant and overwhelming.  We have to give them a way to change their public school down the block, one school at a time.

The “parent trigger” bill would give inner-city parents a way to organize to improve their public school down the block.  The bill would allow parents whose kids attend one particular public school to collect signatures on a petition to change the school’s management to a private management company free of union ties.  Then the school would be run effectively and efficiently outside of union control.  The name for this privately managed school is a charter school.  Collecting a majority of parent signatures would “trigger” or force the school district to make the conversion.  A small voucher program for the kids that don’t prefer the new charter school could be added.

If the parent-trigger becomes law, then the real job of Short-term Goal 2 begins.  This job is passing petitions in inner-city neighborhoods to energize and organize parents to improve their neighborhood school.  This will take time, but it should be productive because it engages parents at the level that they understand and care about.  This is the process of building the large bipartisan grassroots network required in Problem 2.

When some of the petitions “trigger”, the unions will try to block the charter conversions.  The unions will surely resist this reform because more charter schools mean less union dues.  But they will be opposing the very inner-city parents that they claim to be helping.  This will expose their lie, which gives them no place to hide.  Now the right-wing tea-partiers AND the inner-city parents will be united in their opposition to the unions.  Then we will have a grassroots army large enough to fight for universal tax-credits.

In summary, even though our long-term goal is universal family and scholarship tax-credits, there are two short-term goals that must be accomplished first.

Short-term goal 1 is to abolish the ISD property tax and substitute a broad-based state sales tax.

Short-term goal 2 is to pass the parent-trigger bill and start organizing parents to convert their local school to charter schools.

Both short-term goals can be worked on simultaneously.  When both are accomplished, the groundwork will be completed to move on the universal tax-credits.

Charter Schools Get the Short Stick Again

September 17, 2010

The WSJ explains how most of the federal teacher bailout is really a unionized teacher bailout. Highlights:

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have made charter schools a big part of their reform agenda, but the pushback from unions has been fierce. Perhaps that explains why the new $10 billion federal teacher bailout will be dispensed in a way that discriminates against charters.

Under the Administration’s guidelines, charters that want the bailout money would have to do their own hiring and contribute to a public pension that takes nearly 20 cents of every dollar.

[But many charters] contract with education management organizations [to handle payroll,] OSHA mandates, and other rules for them.  [According to the bailout rules, this practice would prevent them from getting bailout funds.]

Broke—and Building the Most Expensive School in U.S. History

September 7, 2010

What a juicy story!  Free (taxpayer) Money! Highlights:

At $578 million—or about $140,000 per student—the 24-acre Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in mid-Wilshire [CA] is the most expensive school ever constructed in U.S. history. To put the price in context, this city’s Staples sports and entertainment center cost $375 million. To put it in a more important context, the school district is currently running a $640 million deficit and has had to lay off 3,000 teachers in the last two years. It also has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the worst test scores.

The K-12 complex is a jarring reminder that money doesn’t guarantee success—though it certainly beautifies failure.

[T]he school boasts an auditorium whose starry ceiling and garish entrance are modeled after the old Cocoanut Grove nightclub…  Talking benches—$54,000—play a three-hour audio of the site’s history.

[Thomas] Rubin, [a consultant for the district’s bond oversight committee, was asked] whether some of the school’s grandiose features … were worth the cost. “Did we have to do that? Hell no. But there’s no accounting for taste,” he responded.

The district’s building spree has sparked outrage from charter schools, not least because they are getting only a tiny piece of the bond pie. California Charter School Association President Jed Wallace says a charter school can be built at a seventh of the cost of the Kennedy complex…. For example, the nonprofit Green Dot built seven charters in the area—to serve about 4,300 mainly low-income students—for less than $85 million in total. These schools also have a collective graduation rate that’s nearly twice as high as that of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which Education Week magazine pegs at 40%.

Mr. Rubin says it’s unfair to compare charters with traditional public schools because charters aren’t saddled with onerous government regulations regarding labor and environmental standards. What he doesn’t say is that charter schools don’t have taxpayers as a backstop. Traditional public schools “have no accountability or restraints,” Mr. Wallace bristles. “They don’t have to make the tough choices when costs run over.”

See the Agony and Ecstasy of a Charter-School Wait-List

September 3, 2010

THIS WEEKEND, you can view “The Lottery”, which is a feature-length documentary movie about four low-income families hoping to win the chance for their child to attend an excellent charter school, Harlem Success Academy, instead of the failing district public school. You have four opportunities to watch it THIS WEEKEND at www.constellation.tv.

Unlike other school-choice documentaries, this movie describes the emotional dimension of  parental choice in education.  You are introduced to four low-income families and experience the love and hope that the parents have for their children and their education.

You witness the hostility and persecution that the educational establishment has for this successful charter school, which prevents the charter school from expanding in order to take more children off of its wait-list.

The climax of the movie is the meeting for the lottery drawing.  The auditorium is filled with thousands of families hoping to win one of the 475 open slots to attend Harlem Success Academy.  Since the movie allows you to develop an emotional relationship with these families. You feel the elation of the one family that wins a slot for their daughter and the disappointment of the other three families that do not win.

I highly recommend the movie.  Take time this holiday weekend to experience the agony and ecstasy of “The Lottery”.

More Evidence of ‘What Works’ for American Education

February 8, 2010

Three highlights from an excellent WSJ article about research in favor of vouchers.

“In 2008 the graduation rate for voucher students was 77% versus 65% for the nonvoucher students…”

The voucher students receive less than half the public funding that the public students receive.

“The Milwaukee program has survived for 20 years despite ferocious political opposition, and it would have died long ago if parents didn’t believe their children were better off for it.”

The NEA’s Democratic Puppets Final Answer? Abandon D.C.’s Poor Kids

December 19, 2009

WSJ Editorial exposes Senator Durbin’s (D-IL) trail of broken promises. Obama signs the bill that phases out the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.  So much for “education reform”.

Basis Charter School is “on Top”

November 13, 2009

Great article in World Magazine about Basis Charter School in Tucson, AZ


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