Gov Accountability

Finding the "ghost teachers" in Pennsylvania

Ghost teachers

In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation (CF) is tackling the problem of “ghost teachers” — teachers who no longer work in a classroom, but go to work for the teachers’ union and manage to stay on district payroll, receive health benefits, and amass pension credits, just as if they were teaching in a school. CF is working hard to expose this breach of public trust in education and make Pennsylvania a state of opportunity through public policy reform.

“In Pennsylvania, dozens of teachers and school district employees greet each school year not by walking into a classroom but by working full-time for the teachers’ union,” said Gina Diorio, director of media relations at CF. “These ‘ghost teachers’ can stay on district payroll, receive health benefits, amass pension credits, and accrue seniority, just as if they were teaching. This ghost teaching robs students of classroom teachers and, in some cases, costs taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars every year.”

Examples of ghost teaching in Pennsylvania abound, like the case of Jerry Jordan – president of the Philadelphia Foundation of Teachers (PFT) – who has been on leave for 30 years but is still employed as a “teacher” by the Philadelphia school district. Additionally, 16 Philadelphia public school teachers earned $1.5 million in the 2016 school year working for the PFT. The PFT has claimed to reimburse the school district for each ghost teacher’s salary, but they are not contractually obligated to and it is unknown whether it reimburses the state for the pension credits accumulated by ghost teachers.

“Recognizing this union perk was harming students and taxpayers, Commonwealth Foundation undertook comprehensive research to determine the extent of ghost teaching in Pa. CF’s research showed more than 22 percent of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts authorize ghost teachers in their contracts,” Diorio continued. “In all, district contracts authorize at least 196 employees to cut class and work for the teachers’ union full-time.”

CF’s research brought this questionable practice and the costs associated with it to the public, which has responded in outrage at the prospect of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on teachers who don’t teach. For example, Philadelphia ghost teachers’ pensions fetched a bill of $1 million since 1999, all footed by state taxpayers. Local media outlets have further galvanized public outcry.

“CF’s research has been cited by print, online, and broadcast news outlets across the state and even nationally. NBC Philadelphia and CBS Pittsburgh both ran investigative reports on ghost teachers, and Fox News highlighted the issue.”

The massive public uproar in response to learning about ghost teaching has created a climate for legislative reform despite the best efforts of the teachers’ unions to block any bills from passing. “SB 494, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Stefano, prohibits public school teachers from working full-time for their union while remaining on their district's payroll,” Diorio continued. “The bill passed the Senate Education Committee in March 2017, moving to the full Senate for consideration. Similar legislation, HB 164 sponsored by Reps. Rick Saccone, Kristin Hill, and Jim Christiana, has been introduced in the House. (This legislation passed the House Education Committee in 2016 as HB 2125).”

Passage of these bills seems promising, which would be a key victory not only for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania but also for the principle of public money not being given to private political groups.

“In short, teachers are paid to teach. Unions are free to hire their own employees; they should not be free to take teachers from the classroom to do full-time union work on taxpayer time.”