For those in Pennsylvania who hate teacher strikes (and who doesn't?), there is good news. The number of strikes in the state has been down dramatically, and in school districts where contracts have expired, employees continue to work while both sides negotiate a settlement.
The Post-Gazette's Mary Niederberger reported Monday that the dreary economy may be a factor in keeping school employees on the job even when they have no contract. And no wonder, given the state jobless rate of 8.1 percent and the fact that many Pennsylvania taxpayers -- the people who fund the schools -- feel squeezed by the economy and are in no mood for tax hikes.
In Allegheny County, according to the article, several school districts reached contract accords over the summer, board approval is expected next week on a tentative agreement in Steel Valley and teachers are working under the terms of expired contracts in eight other districts. But there is probably more afoot than just a limp economy.
Today's Pennsylvania public school teachers, compared to workers in the private sector, are generally in a strong position economically. They benefit from rising salaries, strong health insurance and generous pensions. Why risk a nasty and divisive strike in their community when, relatively speaking, they are doing very well?
Another factor overlooked by some Pennsylvanians is that the Legislature and Gov. Robert P. Casey restricted school employees' ability to strike with Act 88 in 1992. The goal was to encourage earlier bargaining and settlements -- and it has succeeded.
In the 20 academic years covered by 1970-90, the state averaged nearly 39 school strikes a year, according to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. In 1990-91 and 1991-92, when the legislation to curb walkouts was being considered, there were 24 and 36 strikes, respectively.
In the 19 school years after Act 88 was on the books, the state had an average of only 11 strikes per year, with the total for each of the last five school years in single digits -- seven, eight, eight, three and two.
So maybe the drop in school strikes is due to the economy or to other factors as well, like fair compensation and a law to discourage walkouts. Either way, it's progress for Pennsylvania schools, students, parents and teachers -- because no one wins with a strike.