As unionized public school staffers protest the School District of Philadelphia’s failure to assent to the union’s salary and training terms, threatening to strike at the beginning of the school year, school choice advocates are reminding parents of alternatives.
Bus drivers, custodians, maintenance staff, and other workers represented by the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ have authorized a strike that could compromise the resumption of schooling that is scheduled for next Monday. Pro-strike workers insist they are underpaid, noting that cleaners make roughly $16,000 per year at the low end. At the high end, construction inspectors make approximately $70,000.
“School District of Philadelphia workers vote to strike one week before school begins,” Marc LeBlond, policy director at the nonprofit EdChoice tweeted Tuesday. “Attn Philly Parents: You have options. The state offers education tax credits for private education and there are many, many charter schools in Philadelphia.”
The threat of staff and faculty strikes has long been palpable across the Keystone State, where public-sector unions remain relatively powerful. Disruptions of schooling became even more onerous as school closures throughout the commonwealth transpired after the onset of COVID-19.
But despite unions’ clout, advocates for private-school choice programs as well as public charters have gained ground over the years.
Pennsylvania has two tax-credit programs for businesses that contribute to organizations assisting parents who seek schooling alternatives for their children: the Educational Improvement Tax Credit and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit. The state also has 165 charter schools.
“Because of the uncertainties in education particularly as of late, whether it’s COVID or teacher shortages or building issues, families are realizing that options must be on the table for the best interests and consistency of education for their children,” PA Families for Education Choice Founder Sharon Sedlar told The Pennsylvania Daily Star.
Sedlar said that, despite the state making progress toward greater school choice, the movement faces some major hindrances. She said the state could do more to provide resources to home schoolers and should remove impediments that Philadelphia has effectively erected to prevent expanded charter education.
She also mentioned that many state officials have sought to implement more burdensome regulations affecting charter schools. Governor Tom Wolf’s (D) administration attempted to do so earlier this year but a budget deal with Republicans in the legislature tabled those new regulations.
“What we need to do as families is make sure that the powers that be and our elected representatives know about how we feel about education choice in whatever discipline, district, charter, private [or] home school,” she said. “Everybody needs to make their position and their stories of their children and their families known so we can really focus on them.”
According to Anne Clark, chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, demand for the kind of choice her member institutions provide is presently high, with “tens of thousands” of students waiting for charter-school openings. Approximately 170,000 students currently attend public charters in the commonwealth.
Clark says she sees the matter as a “civil rights issue,” insofar as children of taxpaying families should have access to public institutions created for their benefit.
“That child should have access to [a charter] school because [it is] a public school,” she said.
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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].