Earlier this summer, I brought you this story about the 31-year incumbent president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, Dawn Morris, getting tapped to succeed current Secretary-Treasurer Peg Laden as the union’s president.
In my June story, I wrote about the selection:
Morris’s governing platform is known as the 4R’s. That’s “Right Response, Resolve, Refocus and Reclaim for Progress and Recovery.” As the press release indicates, when public education’s makeover goes into full swing, she will be there at the forefront to “reestablish constitutional rights and worker dignity for the citizens who are the soul of this great state.”
The 4R campaign’s first item lists creating “a unified voice for Pennsylvania’s students, public schools, and educators” as “a community priority,” as well as to “deliver on” “unfunded mandates, shifts to three-and-a-half-day school weeks, and move away from sports and extracurricular programs.” There’s also a pledge to “restore and expand coverage for health care, job training, and child care; support and reduce student and parent and family costs for school supplies, uniforms, remediation, and special education costs; and ensure continued state funding to end obsolete school rules and limit the states’ takeover of the classroom.”
Reading that, I can’t help but think of Kenney, who said Monday that there are roughly $500 million in state “accounting tricks” that he wants to rein in, though he didn’t specify how.
Kenney, whose number one line on his legislative agenda is doing a “complete reevaluation of how we fund education” because of the $2 billion he says his budget proposals to the state legislature have been rebuffed.
Over and over I’ve heard from supporters of Kenney and UCP who say that right wingers who characterize him as left or right-wing don’t understand the party’s approach to education — that is, to go big.
Those supporters, while supportive of UCP’s efforts to fight the proposal to eliminate the state-funded pension benefit, also say that they don’t understand how Kenney can launch a multibillion-dollar proposal to overhaul the state’s property taxes and make higher education tuition-free at state universities, while never mentioning the UCP charter schools.
So for anyone who doesn’t understand the basic funding formula for most public schools in Pennsylvania, what would be wrong with saying that if he wants to do these things, he should just give UCP a major hand out by supporting charter schools in exchange for some funding help? Would Kenney’s supporters say, “Just go for it,” if he jumped on a charter school bill, and the state has started to fund some schools with charter dollars, but made them exempt from the state cap on a property tax cap that has decimated the traditional public school system?
That’s the question going into UCP’s annual meeting Tuesday and into next week, and I can’t help but wonder what the state’s Republican leaders have planned for UCP. Though UCP is well-funded, at least from a political standpoint, it’s not so well-funded when it comes to giving money to its many dues-paying members. If those members want Kenney’s spending approved in public, or if he wants to make major changes to the way the state distributes funding for public schools and pay raises to teachers, some real thinking is going to have to be had.
Could the big idea floated as a Plan B to end the drawn-out state house process — using automatic-dialing machines to send out $24 million in new money to certain, so-called “high-needs” school districts — be the beginning of that thinking? Could it be part of a broader idea of good governance, and the extent to which Kenney has the ear of members who might want to make sure he gets a big hand in rewriting state law?
If UCP board members know who their state senators are, why can’t they vote on a bill to send home more money?
I have heard from people supporting Kenney and UCP who say, regardless of how they think he’d handle or expand the charter schools, they still want him as the group’s president, because he’s smart, savvy and focused on problems.
But it’s worth noting that while the state house is closed to reporters today, if you get to the back of the House chamber, as I did yesterday for a press conference where a Democratic state senator was