|Seriously-- this is District 30.|
Eichelberger is a Republican upstart who was swept into office on the wave of voter anger over the infamous late-night pay raise of 2005. He was supported by an assortment of conservatives including Pat Toomey. He had previously worked in the insurance biz and as a Blair County Commissioner.He represents Pennsylvania Senate District 30, just one of the many completely gerrymandered districts in Pennsylvania.
In 2011, when Betsy and Richard DeVos were looking to finance a push for vouchers in Pennsylvania, Eichelberger was just the man to take point. Taking point included pushing the narrative that Pennsylvania's schools were a terrible, failing mess. (It's also worth noting that the DeVos push for vouchers included allies who were explicitly in favor of shutting down "government schools" entirely.)
When it comes to the pension problems of Pennsylvania, Eichelberger has argued for fixed contribution pensions-- you get a fixed amount of money chipped in and go play the market with your retirement fund. Good luck to you.
And most recently, Eichelberger has surfaced as the sponsor of the SB 229, a bill recycled from previous sessions and aimed at making sick days a locally-negotiated part of teacher contracts. In other words, putting them on the table as one more thing that can be stripped from a contract. He's also the legislator behind SB 166, the bill that would end paycheck deductions for paying union dues. Is he one of those backseat grandstanding hacks whose bills have no chance of success. Well, no. He's the chairman of the Education Committee.
Some pretty feisty language has been thrown around in response to Eichelberger's bill. Are we perhaps misjudging Eichelberger? Is he actually a friend of education who means well? Does he sincerely think he's looking out for teachers' and students' best interests?
Well, no, it doesn't look like it.
Yesterday Zack Hoopes at The Sentinel reported on a town hall meeting in which Eichelberger made it clear that he would like to stick it to teachers, with fire and barbecue sauce.
|This guy. This frickin' guy.|
One critic noted that the sick day policy seemed like a tax on employees, not something that would actually help students. Eichelberger doesn't much care. He wants to penalize teachers and union members because they're taking advantage of the system.
So what about that payroll deduction bill? Did Eichelberger have any elegant explanation of why that bill was necessary? Not according to Hoopes.
In response to a question, Eichelberger described SB 166 as “a lead-in to Right to Work,” meaning legislation mandating that employees be allowed to opt out of union membership while still receiving union benefits, obviating the existence of unions themselves.
And when discussing the sick leave bill, Eichelberger at first stuck to the script. School boards asked for this. It gives them more flexibility in negotiating (aka one more thing they can use to leverage giving teachers less and less). But later in the evening, he described the purpose a little more honestly.
But later in Monday’s meeting, Eichelberger indicated that his interest was not in easier bargaining, but in taking away benefits he didn’t feel teachers deserved.
“We’re talking about sick days for people who only work 8½ months. It’s ridiculous,” Eichelberger said, a comment that received an audible, collective groan from audience members.
Yes, if teachers really cared about their work, they would schedule illnesses for themselves and their families during the summer. Because what every parent wants is for their child to be greeted by a coughing, sneezing, germ-laden teacher who can't take the day off.
Eichelberger also revealed that he would like to look at getting rid of some state universities, with Clarion and Cheney likely targets for "the chopping block." Why does he think they are unnecessary? Because now we have lots of community colleges, and those should be good enough. Besides, enrollments down. When asked if he saw any correlation between lowered enrollment, slashed state support for the university system, and increased tuition to make up the difference, he said no, that didn't look like a meaningful connection to him.
Oh, but it gets even better,
Eichelberger also took the occasion to complain about "inner city" education programs that were trying to get minority students into colleges where they just failed anyway, so let's just put them in a nice vocational program instead and be done with it. Yes, that's right. In 2017 an elected state senator is suggesting that there's no point in trying to get black and brown kids to succeed in college, because you know how Those People are.
Like all good reformsters, Eichelberger also wants to effectively destroy tenure and allow school districts to get rid of teachers for purely economic reasons. You know, when schools don't have the revenue any more, just shut them down because it's "a sound business decision." One audience member disagreed:
The mentality is that we need to save money regardless of student demand. It seems like you’re just coming up with new reasons for districts to eliminate positions without taking students into account.
It surely did. And he wasn't done. He also wanted to stump for the new bill ending property tax in Pennsylvania, shifting the burden of school finances from property owners, including and especially business owners, to consumers. Rich folks get a tax break, corporations get a huge tax break, and poor folks get hammered. Seems perfectly fair, and like it will work really, really well and not, say, leave school districts with collapsing financial support.
Did I mention that this guy is now the chair of the senate Education Committee? Start calling your representatives-- the fight for education in Pennsylvania is only going to get worse.