If there’s one thing Scott Wagner hates, it’s education.
He hates science. He hates schools. He hates teachers. And if students get in the way, he’ll hate them, too.
These are the qualities he thinks Pennsylvanians are looking for in their next governor.
The York Township Republican will challenge incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf on Nov. 6, 2018.
So who is this guy?
Wagner’s a college dropout who made a fortune starting a garbage hauling firm. He became a state senator four years ago after winning a write in campaign during a special election where only 17% of the electorate could be bothered to vote.
And ever since, he’s been consistent about one thing: he really, Really, REALLY hates teachers.
“We have 180,000 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania,” Wagner said in 2015. “If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”
Let’s be clear.
Scott wouldn’t miss them. But the 1.75 million Commonwealth school children would.
Ever since the last Republican Governor, Tom Corbett, slashed funding by almost $1 billion a year to the poorest schools with the full help of a state legislature that is even now still under GOP control, our institutions of learning have been reeling.
We lost 27,000 education jobs, most of which were teaching positions.
That’s a deficit we still haven’t recovered from. Even today, state schools are staffed at a 10-year low. Class sizes are at an all time high.
Yet Wagner wants to fire even more teachers!?
That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help improve life throughout the state for all. That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help kids learn.
It’s the policy of a man who has a personal grudge against educators.
And his other legislative objectives?
Wagner wants to further slash education funding. He wants to spend whatever is left inequitably. And he really wants to help his heroes Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos enact school vouchers so business people like him can continue to cash in on children from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and all places between.
By contrast, in his four years in office, Gov. Wolf has pushed to increase education funding, pushed to spend it more fairly, and even cut the time it takes for students to take high stakes standardized tests.
The good news: voters throughout the Commonwealth have never had a clearer choice for governor.
The bad news: when has that ever stopped them from getting it wrong?
Here’s a couple of Wagner’s other big ideas cribbed from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and his buddies the Koch Brothers.
He Thinks Teachers Make Too Much Money
“We have created a special class in this state and the special class is the public sector union employee,” Wagner told Keystone Crossroads in a 2015 interview.
“Teachers are doing very well in this state,” he said. “People would be appalled if they knew what their teachers made, in certain areas.”
Unfortunately, Wagner has no idea, himself.
He keeps quoting a bogus salary figure that I’m not going to repeat. It’s not true statewide, it’s not an average, nor is it true in his home district.
In truth, the low end for teachers entering the field nationwide is around $30,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). So go to college, get a four – sometimes five – year degree including a rigorous internship of student teaching and you make a mere $10,000 above the most generous minimum wage!?
However, Pennsylvania pays its teachers better than average. We have the 12th highest pay in the country, according to financial services outlet GOBankingRates which compiled average teacher salaries by state using 2015 federal data.
According to that data, Pennsylvania teachers make on average $63,063 per year. Of neighboring states, teachers in Maryland ($65,247) and New Jersey ($71,687) make more. Teachers in Ohio (59,063) and Delaware ($59,853) make less.
But those numbers are deceiving. They’re averages. Districts serving the wealthy pay their teachers much better than those serving the poor. Actual pay ranges from $99,253 in the affluent Philadelphia district of Lower Merion to $27,592 at Wonderland Charter School in Centre Country.
As everywhere else, many teachers struggle to make ends meet working multiple jobs while others are well compensated.
No matter how you slice it, nationwide teachers’ salaries are 14% less than those from professions that require similar levels of education, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
In other words, if prospective teachers want to make more money, all they have to do is switch majors.
That may be part of the reason for our national teachers shortage. Not only have states like ours laid off tens of thousands of educators, many don’t stay in the field if given the chance. Across the country , 46 percent of educators quit before reaching the five year mark. And it’s worse in urban districts, where 20 percent quit every single year!
We could take steps to ensure all teachers earned a living wage and even encouraged our best and brightest to enter the field. But, nah, Wagner thinks Pennsylvania already spends “enough” money on public schools.
As Governor, he would do whatever he could to win his personal crusade against teachers even if Pennsylvania’s school children were collateral damage.
He Wants to Eliminate Teachers Sick Days
Wagner has been vocal about eliminating benefits that educators earn, including sick days. He introduced a bill that’s still floating around in the state senate to strip sick days from the school code and make teachers bargain for them with their districts.
So forcing sick teachers to come to school and spread the germs to children is fine with Wagner as long as it hurts his nemesis – those evil teachers.
He Wants to Cut Teachers Pensions
He also plans to end pensions for working educators, and even wants retired educators to give back 10% of the retirement they earned.
He’s right to want reform to the state pension system but disingenuous or misinformed about the cause.
Pennsylvania pension costs have increased primarily because our legislature made bad plans and bad investments that were upended by the crash of 2008. You don’t fix that by stiffing your employees. If you do that, no one will believe any promises the state makes and no one of any substance will want to work for the state.
He Wants To Pay Teachers Based on Student Test Scores
“There are teachers that will exceed expectations while teaching a classroom of 100 of the toughest-to-teach students. There are also teachers that would struggle to teach just one student at a time. I want the first teacher to make a small fortune, and I want the second teacher to find a new career that is better suited for him or her.”
So if you teach the best students, you should make the most money? And if you teach struggling students, you should be fired?
But It’s Not Just Teachers. He Hates Other Working People, Too
If there is a corner to cut, he wants to take it – especially if it screws a working person. As a state senator, Wagner even introduced a bill that would exempt school districts from paying laborers the “prevailing wage” on construction projects.
Cheaper labor, shoddier work. That’s surely a recipe for success in buildings housing school children!
He Wants to Disband Unions
Oh, but he’s not done.
The man who once compared the tactics of public employee unions – including those representing teachers – to those of Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin also wants to end tenure end tenure, seniority, and disband unions.
I’m sure reducing teaching to a career without benefits, workers rights or protections will do wonders for the educational quality students receive.
Teachers working conditions are students learning conditions. Putting children in a building that has fewer safety precautions because there’s no union to collectively bargain for them is a great way to cut costs. But parents aren’t thrilled about having their kids try to learn in a sweat shop filled with Trump brand Russian asbestos.
He Loves School Vouchers and Charter Schools
Call them education saving accounts, education tax credits, personalized learning accounts or opportunity scholarships. It doesn’t matter. Wagner loves them all.
“I support all school choice,” he said in an interview.
Charter schools, funding private and parochial schools with public tax dollars. He’s in for all of it.
So long as it hurts public schools and enriches private businesses without helping students learn at all.
Go ahead! Take scarce funding from public schools and divert it to programs with little to no accountability. Let private school operators fraudulently misrepresent enrollment data. Let them fail to provide safe and academically appropriate learning environments. Let them game the system in any and every way.
That’s what Wagner calls fiscal accountability.
It doesn’t matter that these schools don’t improve student achievement. Evaluations of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., have all found no statistically significant differences in the academic achievement of voucher students compared to public school students. And recent evaluations of programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana revealed that voucher students scored lower than their peers attending public school.
But who cares about facts? This is all ideology for Wagner.
Vouchers have a record of undermining student’s civil rights – especially students with disabilities. Private school students give up due process and other rights guaranteed in public schools. Private schools are allowed to discriminate by denying admission based on religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, English language proficiency and disability. Private schools that enroll students with disabilities may decide not to provide the services or accommodations guaranteed to such students in public schools. Or they may charge parents extra for them. Moreover, there is nothing to stop them from segregating these kids from other children. And, finally, private schools often suspend or expel students without due process.
This may be Trump and Wagner’s ideal. But it is certainly not what Commonwealth voters want for their children.
He Wants to Get Rid of Many State Colleges
Wagner caused an uproar when he said the state’s 14 state colleges will not be around in four years. “So, for those of you who think your school’s going to be around four years from now, it isn’t going to be around,” Wagner said.
Fewer institutions of higher learning. Fewer opportunities to get a college degree. That sounds like the policy of a college dropout.
He Wants to Slash School Funding
Wagner has made no bones about this from day one.
This is a guy who took a television reporter on a helicopter tour of schools in his district in 2015 to highlight the fact that “we spend a lot of money on schools.”
“They think the solution is more money,” he said of Wolf and the Democrats. “Every time you do that the money disappears and the problem is still there.”
It’s like taking a bath, Scott. You can’t just do it once and be clean for the rest of your life. You need to bathe every day. One-time funding windfalls don’t work. You need equitable and sustainable funding revenues.
But that’s either too complicated for Wagner or he just doesn’t care.
He supported Gov. Corbett’s plan to decimate Pennsylvania’s schools. And he doesn’t think the culling should be over.
When asked point blank about Corbett’s cuts in 2011, he said, “Yes, I believe that Governor Corbett needs to stick to his plan.”
He’s said repeatedly that we spend “enough money” on public schools, while stressing the need for frugality and fewer regulations.
He Wants to Play with How Schools Are Funded
He’s an advocate for legislation that would eliminate school property taxes and replace them with increased state sales and income taxes.
True we need a better funding mechanism than local property taxes. But you can bet Wagner’s plan is worse than the current system.
It would lock funding inequities among Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts into place.
He Thinks Global Warming is Caused by the Earth Getting Closer to the Sun
Wagner is an incredibly stupid man who thinks he’s rather intelligent.
But of all the dumb or evil things that come spewing out of his mouth, this one has to be my favorite.
When asked about global climate change, he didn’t simply deny that it was happening. He had an alternative theory to why it was taking place.
It’s not business and industry or fossil fuels that is causing global temperatures to rise. He actually said that it’s because the earth is getting closer to the sun every year. Another cause? Human bodies on the planet are giving off enough heat to raise the global temperature.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a person who hates schools and teachers so much knows very little, himself.
These comments made him a national laughing stock.
His words were repeated on every late night comedy show across the country for giggles and guffaws.
The question is “Will the joke be on us come Election Day?”
It’s not “How dumb is Scott Wagner?”
It’s “Is Pennsylvania dumb enough to vote for him?”
NOTE: Special Thank you to Sue Goncarovs for the Wagner cartoon with which I began this piece. I love your work!
Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!
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