Fetterman Wants To ‘Invest More’ in Public Schools. He Once Owed His School District Tens of Thousands.

Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman / Getty Images
September 20, 2022

Senate hopeful John Fetterman has cast himself as a champion of Pennsylvania's public schools, telling voters he will "make sure our public schools have the funding they need." But his tax records tell a different story. In fact, as mayor of Braddock, Pa., Fetterman failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes on time to his local school district, one of the poorest in the state.

Woodland Hills School District, which serves Braddock, placed nearly three-dozen tax liens against Fetterman totaling $18,692 for unpaid property taxes from 2006 to 2019, according to records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. The district sued Fetterman twice over the unpaid bills, resulting in default judgments against Fetterman totaling $3,769. Fetterman has since paid off the liens, but in some cases it took him more than six years to satisfy the debt.

The delinquent tax payments undercut Fetterman's claim to be a champion for public schools. In 2018, he said he opposed school vouchers, claiming they would divert funds from public schools to charter and private schools. Fetterman says on his campaign website that he will fight for public school funding if he’s sent to Washington so that "teachers aren't shouldering so much of a burden." He recently called on state lawmakers to "invest more" in Pennsylvania's public schools.

In failing to pay taxes to Woodland Hills, Fetterman deprived funding for one of the poorest and academically challenged districts in the Keystone State. The district's three elementary schools are in the bottom 15 percent of academic achievement tests. Seventy-one percent of Woodland Hills students in the 2021-2022 school year were low-income, one of the highest rates in Pennsylvania, according to state education department data. The state legislature this year gave Woodland Hills $1.4 million in "level up" funding, which goes to school districts with a "higher at-risk student population."

In all, agencies in Fetterman's Allegheny County placed 65 liens totaling $30,463 against Fetterman and Braddock Redux, the community nonprofit he founded with funding from his wealthy father. Woodland Hills placed $6,422.11 in tax liens against Fetterman and another $12,250.38 against Braddock Redux, court filings show. In Pennsylvania, taxing authorities like school districts, counties, and waste management providers send out separate tax bills to property owners.

Woodland Hills filed multiple lawsuits against Fetterman after months of failed attempts to collect the delinquent tax debts. One lawsuit filed in September 2008 shows the lengths to which the school district went to collect the money before suing Fetterman.

Woodland Hills sued Fetterman on Sept. 9, 2008, for $1,278.38 he owed in taxes for the 2006 tax year. The district mailed Fetterman notices on May 9, 2008, and July 30, 2008, regarding the unpaid debt, and the sheriff's office served him a lawsuit at his residence on Sept. 25, 2008, records show. The court issued a default judgment against Fetterman on Aug. 11, 2009, in the amount of $2,442.67. The debt was "satisfied" on Oct. 18, 2012, according to records.

Fetterman has given several explanations for not paying his taxes on time. He said in 2016, when the issue surfaced in his first Senate campaign, that the liens "were never substantial" and were for properties he "saved for the community." He said some of the taxes "shouldn't have been paid" due to clerical errors, while others "just fell through the cracks." He has said that some of the properties were vacant houses he refurbished and gave to residents of Braddock.

Fetterman's delinquency didn't sit well with some Allegheny County residents.

"It's not very responsible, especially for somebody in a political position like that," Lisa Musta told a news station in 2016. "It's not a good example for other people, and it doesn't sit well with me."

Fetterman has been accused of hypocrisy before on the public school issue. The progressive darling supported school closures and other lockdowns during the pandemic in 2020, but took a family vacation to the Jersey Shore with a taxpayer-funded security detail in tow.

Fetterman since 2015 has sent at least one of his children to Winchester Thurston, a private school in Pennsylvania where tuition is as high as $34,250, the Free Beacon reported. David P. Hardy, the founder of a charter school in Pennsylvania, accused Fetterman of hypocrisy for opposing school vouchers in poor districts, telling the Free Beacon that "the poor people there are stuck going to those schools, and [Fetterman] doesn't give them any way out."

A Fetterman spokesman confirmed that the liens were placed against properties Fetterman bought through the nonprofit he started with his father's money, which the spokesman said was "helping to revive Braddock."