Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another union bailout

Today we get a plea from Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers for a bailout of teachers unions, um I mean, the children of America.

I have been traveling the country, watching teachers, administrators and unions striving to implement some of the most progressive and effective reform efforts in decades. But genuine school reform can't be accomplished with fewer teachers, unmanageable class sizes, and fewer intervention programs for struggling students. Children don't have a pause button—they need a great education during good economic times and bad.

I guess in union speak “progressive and effective reform” means “doing the same thing year after year at a higher cost and with a lower quality result while opposing any real reform that might cost union jobs”. I guess you can keep beating that drum until someone calls you out on it: A great education can only be achieved by a great deal of spending. It won’t even cost that much, just a pittance really:

The short-term solution to ensure kids start the next school year without major disruption is federal legislation to provide a $23 billion infusion to states to avert educational and economic disaster.

$23,000,000,000 That is quite an “infusion”.

What we are talking about is not a bailout for “the children”. It is a bailout for teachers unions, a bailout to preserve their jobs at taxpayer expense. It does nothing to address the underlying problems and will leave us in the exact same spot next year, when you can be sure the teachers unions and their cronies in Congress will come back looking for more money in what will eventually turn into a perpetual handout. This is little more than a money grab, an out and out transfer of income from non-teacher taxpayers to unionized public school teachers. Without this bailout, Ms. Weingarten is warning that “275,000 teachers and other school staff will receive pink slips”. That $23,000,000 bailout amounts to $83,636 for every unionized school employee job saved. That is pretty pricey for the end-result we are getting and that money has to come from somewhere. In case Ms. Weingarten missed it, we don’t have any money here in the good ole U.S. of A.. We are running enormous deficits already, soon to balloon even more when Obamacare comes into play. We have saddled the children that Ms. Weingarten is allegedly so concerned about with a crippling debt burden that no amount of education is going to resolve. This $23,000,000,000 that Ms. Weingarten is demanding will come from increased taxes and public debt. It is not like the Federal government is sitting on a huge pile of money that it doesn’t know what to do with.

As anyone who is paying attention knows, America is cutting back on everything. We have been spending and spending and spending for decades with virtually no restraint. School districts have been prime culprits of this behavior, coming to the taxpayers every few years for an increase in funding with the rallying cry “It is for the children!” to tug at the heart strings. That gravy train has come to a screeching halt. The voters are rejecting increased taxes on their homes as they watch their equity disappear. It is time for public schools to face the same reality that municipal governments and private sector employers are dealing with, i.e. we all have to learn to make do with less money.

Despite the enormous funding the taxpayers have poured into the public school system over the decades, the standard of education in America has grown progressively worse. By virtually any measure, our educational system is failing across the board and this in spite of years of seemingly limitless funding increases. If we want better results, we are going to have to change the way we do education in this country. Teachers unions expect more and more money on demand, seeing the tax-payers as a giant and unlimited ATM, but at the same time refuse to permit any actual reforms. It would be one thing if there was a direct correlation between spending and quality education but the reality is not so simple. Here is a personal example. We have a very nice school district in the town we live in (although we of course don’t utilize it). The high school in our town is enormous and has all of the latest gizmos and gadgets. Our high school boasts an incredible statistic that 95% of all graduates go on to colleges and universities. Put another way, there are about 4000 kids in our school district and 3800 of them will end up in college. That is a staggering number but it has nothing to do with class size or funding levels. It has everything to do with parents who demand academic excellence from their kids and have expressed an expectation that their kids will go to college. Even if we had a cruddy school building and bigger classes, these kids would still excel and go to college. Conversely, the newest and nicest school building with tiny class sizes in Detroit is not going to produce the same results.

The dirty secret that teachers unions don’t want you to think about is that education has a lot more to do with parental attitudes than it does with funding. All the funding in the world won’t help a kid who doesn’t have the desire to learn because it hasn’t been instilled in them. Private and parochial schools have been proving this for decades. It is just a reality that any system or institution that functions in a virtual monopoly and is insulated from the need to be efficient or deal with competition is going to be inefficient and more concerned with self-preservation than quality (a timely warning for what our health care system is going to look like in the future). What our educational system needs is not a bailout in the form of a blank check. Our education system needs to be bailed out from the influence of the self-serving teachers unions that block reform and stymie innovation. As long as we treat our public school system as a jobs program for college grads with education degrees, it will continue to produce underperforming students at enormous costs. As a society we cannot afford either the exorbitant costs or the mediocre results any longer.
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