Public teachers doing union work instead of their actual jobs are coming under fire in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as Republicans move to stop the practice.
The practice can be found in many states and federal agencies. It is known as official time on the federal level and release time in states. Republican Pennsylvania state Reps. Kristin Phillips-Hill and Jim Christiana unveiled legislation Tuesday to end Philadelphia and Pittsburgh public school teachers from using release time.
“These teachers are missing from Philadelphia classrooms at a time when the district says it is struggling to retain and add new teachers in order to meet students’ needs,” Phillips-Hill declared in a statement. “It’s a somewhat hollow statement when Philadelphia union President Jerry Jordan remains on the public payroll as a classroom teacher while working full time for the union for the past 30 years.”
The legislation was drafted in response to an ongoing lawsuit. The Fairness Center Feb. 25 sued the Philadelphia school district for its release time policy. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, Philadelphia teachers doing union work made $1.7 million in taxpayer funded pay last year and $36 million since 2003.
“Union leaders are abusing public resources by taking these ghost teachers out the classroom to staff their own organizations—all on the taxpayer’s dime,” Foundation President Matthew Brouillette said in a statement. “This is a disservice to our students, it’s unfair to dedicated teachers, and it’s a breach of public trust.”
“At a time when the School District of Philadelphia is facing teacher shortages and substitute staffing problems,” he added. “It’s particularly galling that qualified teachers are being held back to benefit a union, not teach kids.”
The policy is costly on the federal level as well. According to Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, it cost the federal government at least $1 billion between 1998 and 2013. The exact amount may be much higher, however, due to bad recordkeeping and a lack of transparency.
Official time may have also played a major role in the recent scandal at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A 2014 report from the Capital Research Center found that many veterans may have died as a result of healthcare officials doing union work instead of their job.
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