With much of the national focus on education and compensation falling on New Jersey and Governor Chris Christie, Reason TV takes a look at a standoff on the opposite end of the country. South Orange County, California is a wealthy area with plenty of good schools, but even those districts have to meet a budget, and the school board has already had one recall over mismanagement in the past decade. With the economic collapse, state funding has been seriously reduced, and the Capistrano Unified School District has to find ways to get its budget balanced. Eighty-five percent of that budget goes to employee compensation, and that made it the most logical target for savings — but the teachers disagreed and went on strike rather than agree to an across-the-board pay cut:
In April 2010, 2,200 teachers went on strike for three days after the school board imposed a 10 percent pay cut. The children who attended school during the strike had to walk past their teachers who, instead of preparing for class, were marching in front of the school with picket signs reading “It’s not about the money” and “We’d rather be teaching.”
Some parents honked in support of the union as they drove by. Other parents were frustrated by union members who were unwilling to work out a compromise with a district that is facing a $34 million budget deficit. Lots of parents talked about using the strike as “a teaching moment.”
It takes about six and a half minutes before we get to the actual bone of contention. A 10% salary cut for teachers making an average of over $80,000 per year is certainly significant, but the union intended to flex its muscles over another issue entirely: charter schools. The CUSD board supports the idea of competition, which would have imposed a free-market solution on the education monopoly. The teachers union calls this an attempt to “destroy public education,” and one of the teachers says that the walkout was an example to her students of how to “stand up to bullies.” Now the union has decided to launch a recall effort against two board members, hoping to replace them with union sympathizers.
This looks like a situation complicated by managerial incompetence from the previous board as well as a union more interested in job security than in allocation of funding. The other option here would have been to lay off ten percent of the teachers rather than ask for pay cuts, but that would have still meant a loss to the union. The public purse is not bottomless, and in hard economic times, it’s even more difficult to find funding.
That brings us to another story today about teachers and funding. Remember when the Obama administration claimed to have “saved or created” hundreds of thousands of teachers’ jobs through Porkulus last year? They’re suddenly expiring, and want more federal bailout money:
Senior congressional Democrats and the Obama administration scrambled Wednesday to line up support for $23 billion in federal aid to avert an estimated 100,000 or more school layoffs in a brutal year for education budgets coast to coast.
As early as Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee expects to take up a bill that couples the school funding with spending for the Afghanistan war — a measure that has bipartisan support. But a parallel push in the Senate stalled this week after a leading proponent concluded that he couldn’t muster enough votes to surmount Republican opposition.
“We desperately need Congress to act — to recognize the emergency for what it is,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “We have to keep hundreds of thousands of teachers teaching.”
Republicans and some Democrats say the government can’t afford an extension of last year’s economic stimulus that would add to the federal deficit. The stimulus law kept many school budgets afloat with $49 billion in direct aid to states and billions of dollars more for various programs. But the stimulus funding is trailing off before state and local tax revenue can recover from the recession.
Skeptics of a new education jobs fund point out that the teaching force in recent years has grown faster than enrollment, with schools adding instructional coaches and reducing class sizes.
“Giving states another $23 billion in federal education money simply throws more money into taxpayer-funded bailouts when we should be discussing why we aren’t seeing the results we need from the billions in federal dollars that are already being spent,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
In the first place, the problem is that states have used these federal grants to put off making necessary cuts to government bureaucracies. They get money earmarked for teachers and first responders from the federal government, which then gets to play hero for supposedly saving these jobs. Then the states shift money away from those programs in order to shield other employees from budget-cutting that should have taken place years ago.
Boehner is right in both the short and long term. Massive increases in federal funding over the last few decades have produced very little in the way of systemic improvements in the system. In the immediate sense, the Porkulus dollars that supposedly “saved” these jobs did nothing of the sort. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to “save” them again.
It’s time to start encouraging competition in the education system rather than enlarging subsidies to the failing bureaucracies — and it’s also time to force states to make better decisions about how they spend their own money, where taxpayers can hold them accountable, rather than pick the pockets of taxpayers who get no say on how those monies are spent on the state and local level.