Tag: teacher layoffs

Teachers Union Walk-Around Money

Let’s just call the recently-passed Edujobs bill what it really is: A congressional Democrat plan to keep control of the federal legislative branch by subsidizing the National Education Association and…

Doling out the election cash.

Let’s just call the recently-passed Edujobs bill what it really is: A congressional Democrat plan to keep control of the federal legislative branch by subsidizing the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — and absolutely useless and unnecessary to boot. It really is that simple. As I pointed out in The American Spectator earlier this year, congressional Democrats — fearful of losing seats (and possibly, control) in both houses — were looking for a way to placate the NEA and AFT (whose $71 million in donations during the 2007-2008 election cycle makes them the single-biggest forces in campaign finance) and keep their money and bodies in the game.

As it has been pointed out over the past few months, there is almost no need for these subsidies. For one thing, the original estimates have turned out to be illusory as school districts such as New York City have figured out ways to stave off layoffs, either by cutting jobs in other areas of education (including school staffers represented by the Service Employees International Union and other unions), holding off scheduled teacher pay raises or cutting other areas of school district operations. For all the caterwauling by teachers unions, their allies and congressional leaders such as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave “Walking Around Money” Obey, the subsidies were absolutely unnecessary. More importantly, given that the layoffs would only affect at best five percent of the 6.2 million people working in education — small potatoes compared to the wrenching layoffs within the private sector — school districts would have done just fine without the money.

Though the bill does benefit the NEA and the AFT, it’s difficult to discern how it will really help congressional Democrats. For one, the waves of dissatisfaction among voters have more to do with how the party and President Barack Obama have handled such issues as federal economic stimulus subsidies (that has done little), continued mismanagement of budget deficits (a continuation of Bush II-era mismanagement) and the passage of a healthcare reform bill no one outside of pharmaceutical giants, unions and “progressives” want. If congressional Democrats want to keep power (which they may still do based on recent polling in states such as Connecticut), the solution lies in pursuing a more fiscally-prudent set of budget policies, cutting federal spending, reducing taxes and taking on the long-term strains on economic growth — including deficits in Social Security and more-aggressive education reform.

Congressional Democrats also didn’t need to give any money to the NEA and AFT because the two don’t have any other options in the general election cycle. Although the two unions give plenty to Republicans at the state and local levels, they hardly give any money to Republicans in Congress. This means that the NEA and AFT don’t have many allies on the national level (even though both the unions and conservative and suburban elements within the GOP share a heated disdain for much of the Bush/Obama school reform agenda). Given the lack of allies and the fact that the NEA and AFT have other issues on which they share common ground with Democrats (the moribund card check legislation and healthcare reform), the two unions have little choice but to back congressional Democrats at all times.

What Edujobs represents is lost opportunity to further advance school reform. Teacher quality reforms such aren’t advanced by the subsidies because  school districts aren’t required to end Reverse Seniority (“last hired-first fired) layoffs and other seniority-based privileges in exchange for the money. There is no provision requiring districts and states to address their long-term fiscal problems, namely at least $600 billion in pension deficits and unfunded retired teacher health liabilities. There is no Race to the Top-like component that would reward states and districts for innovating how they handle human capital management issues. Education doesn’t begin to understand that the sector shouldn’t be treated different than any other during periods of economic dislocation.  Not one thing of value for children or for improving the abysmal quality of American public education.

Essentially, Edujobs has all the hallmarks of Tammany Hall dealmaking devoid of strategic cleverness or plain common sense.

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Race to the Edujobs?

As I have pointed out since the beginning of the year, the efforts by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama to keep control of Congress may be the most-immediate problem…

Gut check time.

As I have pointed out since the beginning of the year, the efforts by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama to keep control of Congress may be the most-immediate problem for the school reform efforts being orchestrated by Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As Republicans continue to gain momentum — and are likely to capture seats in Indiana, Arkansas and perhaps, even Connecticut — Democratic leaders will need all their activists on the ground to bring out the votes — especially the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the single-biggest donors in Democratic (and general election) politics. But NEA and AFT support won’t come without a price — or without conflict with centrist Democrats who are driving Race to the Top and other Obama initiatives.

This was exemplified yesterday when outgoing Rep. David Obey proposed to use $500 million in dollars slated for Race to the Top to fund a $10 billion package to stave off an ever-dwindling wave of teacher and school staff layoffs. School reformers such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Congressman Jared Polis and the Education Trust went on the warpath, wrangling support against Obey’s effort, while the NEA and AFT reminded other congressional Democrats that they better pay to play.

As Education Trust communications czar Amy Wilkins rightly points out, Obama and Duncan can’t afford to let Obey succeed — and not just because the administration will lose credibility among states and the school reform movement. The reality is that the Obama administration has little in the way of concrete achievements (at least those that don’t involve the controversial and still-likely-to get-partly-overturned health care reform plan). Education reform is one of those sparse achievements and anything that renders it a failure may lead to Obama going the way of Jimmy Carter in the re-election department.

Then there is the reality that this latest version of the education bailout plan (originally planned for $23 billion) is not even needed. A few months ago, it was assumed that as much as five percent of the 6.2 million teachers and school staffers would be laid off due to fiscal problems. Since then, as Mike Antonucci points out almost daily, those layoff numbers have dwindled further as school districts and states use furloughs, tighten belts and attempt to divert federal special education funding to keep teachers and staff on payrolls. That this comes after a previous $100 billion bailout (as part of the federal stimulus plan passed at the beginning of Obama’s term as president) — along with news that education spending hasn’t exactly been flatlined in the past decade — makes school districts and states look downright spendthrifty.

Obama and Duncan probably realize that ARRA II, as I call it, won’t force states to deal with the long-term causes of their fiscal woes: Pension deficits, overly generous benefits such as nearly-free healthcare for teachers, and the traditional system of compensating teachers, which has been costly to taxpayers and students alike. Even if ARRA II forced school districts to abandon the use of reverse seniority (or last hired-first fired) in layoff decisions, it wouldn’t mean much without the acquiescence of NEA and AFT locals, who oppose any change in the status quo.

But for the Democrats, other considerations matter. This includes bolstering the re-election prospects of vulnerable candidates and setting the table for Obama’s re-election effort two years beyond. For the Democrats to overcome the odds of a Republican victory in November, they need lots and lots of bodies. And money. The NEA and AFT offer plenty of that — including $66 million during the 2007-2008 election cycle alone — and far more campaigners on the ground than what school reformers can muster.

Which has always been the problem for the school reform movement. Sure, they have succeeded in winning over most of the policymakers within the Beltway and the nation’s statehouses. But the NEA and AFT have the advantage of strength in numbers. Until now, that intimidation power — the combination of teachers working the corridors of Congress and state capitals and the soft lobbying of parents in schoolhouses — is why the two unions have dominated education policy. Although teachers unions have fewer supporters and can no longer count on unquestioned support from Democrats, they can still whip up enough money and bodies to stave off the most-pathbreaking of reforms, and win over support for bailout schemes that benefit their rank-and-file.

School reformers need to pay attention to what is happening now and build stronger ties to grassroots advocates and parents on the ground; and challenge politicians opposed to school reform at the ballot box and in the hallways. Without them, Race to the Top will become crawl back to the past. The 1.3 million kids destined to drop out in the next year need more than that.

UPDATE (10:54 p.m., July 1): Proving my point, Obey rallied all but 15 Democrats to approve the Race to the Top cuts 239-182 [note: link still says vote not yet available). All but three Republican voted against it.

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Education’s Reality Check

For the vast majority of us who work in sectors outside of education (and outside of the public sector), a few things are simple, brutal and clear. When businesses are…

For the vast majority of us who work in sectors outside of education (and outside of the public sector), a few things are simple, brutal and clear. When businesses are going through periods of economic distress, positions are cut.  If your performance is below satisfactory, only charm and systemic apathy will keep you in the job. You won’t get a raise if the firm is losing money. Money from benefactors come with strings attached. No one gets excited about And your job isn’t likely to be protected because of your long tenure with an employer.

Education, unfortunately, is different. Teachers and school districts have gotten so used to decades of pay increases and expanding payrolls that the very thought of adjusting to economic reality.

When teachers such as Jane Jorgensen of the Elgin school district in Illinois complain that the world isn’t “freaking out” about the loss of as many as 300,000 education jobs this year, they fail to realize that 1) it is just the high end of the U.S. Department of Education’s estimate and 2) given that 6.2 million people are employed in education, a loss of 300,000 jobs pales in comparison to job losses in the private sector (and even some segment of the public sphere). As I have known in my own life, all job losses are a tragedy. But not every job is crucial to the life of a school. Considering that the quality of education — and the dropout crisis — hasn’t subsided despite a 50 percent increase in education payrolls in the past four decades, it is clear that there is some fat (and laggard, uncaring teachers) to trim.

When other educators such as Frank Orfei in Pelham, N.Y. , complain about the lack of pay raises and argue that they feel like they’ve been scapegoated, they seemingly forget that at least they have jobs. So many families — including the ones who attend the schools in which they work — have spent the past two years either adjusting to pay cuts, living on one income (because a parent lost a job) or subsisting on welfare and unemployment benefits. I have seen those families. In fact, I know some of those families. While some of them didn’t plan responsibly for these periods of financial adjustment, I know plenty who have — and still ended up struggling.

Most of the people I know who are in their jobs also didn’t get a raise; those of us who are fortunate to get one sit down, shut up, get to work and remain grateful for the income. The last thing any of us want to hear is complaints about having to make due without a raise when tough economic times demand that we all have to live within our means.

And you can only laugh when the Sherman Dorns of the world incessantly argue that requiring states to reform teacher layoff and dismissal policies in exchange for a $23 billion bailout — the second in two years — only guarantees that “thousands of new teacher careers die in the next year.” If  they can ignore the reality that such a string would actually force states and school systems to change the very reason why those careers will be ended — laws that force districts to lay off teachers based on reverse seniority (“or last hired-first fired”) rules instead of on quality of instruction — then there is little reasoning with them. They have been so used to taxpayers funding education to the tune of $528 billion without so much as requirements for engaging parents, measuring teacher quality, and improving curricula that they are intellectually obsolete.

Certainly education is important to the future of this country. We should invest as much as we can. But given that schools often spend as much as 50 percent of local property tax and state tax dollars, it cannot be insulated from recessionary periods. The fact that states and school districts are finally reckoning with the costs of decades of expensive compensation deals with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — which has resulted in teaching being the best-compensated profession in the public sector — means that teachers will have to adjust to a future in which performance pay, teacher evaluations and the end of tenure is a reality, not a nightmare.

This is the perfect time to restructure education spending so that the money being spent is efficiently used to improve the educational (and economic) destinies of our children and assure that they are all taught by the highest-quality teachers. It means ending reverse seniority layoffs. This means ending tenure. It must also include improving how teachers are compensated so that great instructors are rewarded for great work and the laggards leave the classroom in order to limit the damage on student learning. This means restructuring public school bureaucracies and procedures that have been far too wasteful for everyone involved and complicate the work teachers should do. We owe our children far more than delusions.

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