People Still Want to Choose a Solution, not Collapse

“God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.” – Daniel Webster

There are a couple of heart-warming stories out there today. Well, they’re heart warming for those of us who are frustrated with the gradual yet continual demise of freedom in this country; the gradual path toward statism; what Hayek might have called “the road to serfdom”. For those people, there is hope in these stories, because they are stories about how people really are willing to find solutions to problems (and even propose and adopt drastic measures to achieve those solutions).

The first comes from Wisconsin where we continue to applaud Governor Scott Walker and the legislature for standing up against union thuggery and eliminating collective bargaining. (Sorry to my union friends, but if you want to have the right to bargain collectively against “we the people” for a larger share of our tax dollars, then we reserve the right to kick you to the curb and hire new workers. Or, we’ll just pass laws indicating we refuse collective bargaining … take it, or leave it.)

It turns out that ending collective bargaining has rescued one Wisconsin school district from financial ruin. As the story notes, the change in the laws turned what would have been a $400,000 budget deficit into a $1.5 million surplus! How? Several ways. For one thing, the teachers now have to pay a higher portion of their medical and retirement costs. (Less than private sector norms, but more than it used to be.) That’s a good start. Perhaps even bigger though (in the long run) was the ability to shop around for insurance coverage. Apparently, in the prior collective bargaining agreement, the school districts had to purchase very expensive medical coverage … wait for it … from the unions themselves! Once collective bargaining went away, the school district was free to shop around for coverage, and lo-and-behold they found somebody cheaper.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen, this is the horror that the progressives, Democrats, and union leaders have warned about. If we eliminate collective bargaining, schools will have millions of financial savings giving them more flexibility to provide education for the children. HOW DARE YOU SCOTT WALKER!!!

The next story is a bit more bizarre. Apparently 13 counties in California are considering (how seriously is unclear) the prospect of seceding from the state, perhaps to form their own state. Their gripe? According to the story: “Our taxes are too high, our schools don’t educate our children well enough, unions and other special interests have more clout in the Legislature than the general public.”

Welcome to America. Our taxes are too high – our spending is too high, our education system is struggling to achieve its desired results (not because the teachers aren’t good enough – oh, no, they’re quite capable – but rather because the system doesn’t allow or promote success), our children are having their future mortgaged away, and special interests enjoy more clout in the Legislature than the general public.

I don’t know if this movement is in any-way-shape-or-form serious, but it is encouraging to see the people stand up and say “we are willing to go to any lengths to preserve freedom and a future for our children.” We here at Freedom at Bethsaida wish you guys well.

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4 Responses to People Still Want to Choose a Solution, not Collapse

  1. “If we eliminate collective bargaining, schools will have millions of financial savings giving them more flexibility to provide education for the children.”

    Kaukauna will very likely be a forgotten name in the next few weeks, let alone in the next few years. But I hope you will plan to check in on them in that longer span of time, and see how things have actually turned out for the children (I almost can’t put emphasis on that phrase with a straight face). Because if they are not better, then this wasn’t better.

    First, some relatively simple math based on the explicit figures given in the article suggests that the $1.2 million saved this year (there is no indication of how exactly they estimate managing to save the additional $700,000) would have to be spread across the existing employee workforce cost of health insurance and pension contributions; that is, that no more (or fewer) teachers would be employed. I don’t see where they get the additional money “used to hire a few more teachers.” And even if I did, if they are using it, then they aren’t saving it!

    This means that the lowered class sizes are presumably due entirely to the increase in per-teacher workload from five classes to six. But those approximately 6% class size reductions appear to be expected to be “paid for” solely by the corresponding increase in minimum time that teachers spend in the school. Let us be honest: teaching 6 classes instead of 5 is more than a 20% workload increase, not a 6% increase from a “lazy” 37.5 hour week to 40. That time is time in school, not grading papers, not preparing lessons, etc. And I wonder how often that minimum is really met; I admit my perspective is probably skewed, but I don’t know any teachers here in Howard County that spend less than 40 hours at their job already.

    So I fail to see how there will possibly be “more teacher time for one-on-one sessions with troubled students.” It sounds more to me like the result will be teachers who will be less focused on any one student, troubled or otherwise, and probably disgruntled to boot.

    Don’t get me wrong; you know how I feel about public education and it’s, uh, room for improvement. But I will not pretend that this is an improvement for the students– who are not, but should be, the focus of the debate. Anyway, let’s be empiricists, and let time tell the tale; let us give it a year– indeed, let’s give it several years, and check out Kaukauna again. If the situation sucks worse than it already does, I hope that we can acknowledge that this was a failure, or at least not the solution.

    • nomasir says:

      (1) Nice use of “for the children” … I hadn’t really thought about it when I wrote that, but tongue firmly planted in cheek is the right way to go.
      (2) I technically disagree with the notion that “if [things] are not better, then this wasn’t better”. If “this” is just as good but over a million dollars cheaper then it is clearly better.
      (3) I don’t think this comes remotely close to actually fixing the problems with public education, some of which you point to. However, any step in the direction of breaking special-interest control over the system will, in my estimation, only lead us in the right direction.
      (4) As you note, Kaukauna will likely be forgotten …

      • “(2) I technically disagree with the notion that “if [things] are not better, then this wasn’t better”. If “this” is just as good but over a million dollars cheaper then it is clearly better.”

        I don’t think this is just as good, it is strictly worse, for the workload reasons described. But I think your point here highlights the fact that the workload negotiation seems to be independent of the pay negotiation. That is, if they had not messed with student:class and class:teacher ratios, then I’m not sure you would hear much complaint out of me. (Although I would at least be silently skeptical of the actual savings, since as I said, the numbers do not actually add up. The report is of estimated savings; we shall see if that estimate turns out to be legit.)

      • nomasir says:

        Yes, “estimated savings” are usually vapors. The CBO is most notorious for this. Those guys mean well, but their projections invariably miss the macro-economic point. I digress.

        I won’t quibble on the benefits/drawbacks of the workload/class-ratio questions. I tend, overall, to be skeptical of those types of “estimates” too – give a bad teacher a small class and they’ll suck for fewer students. Give a good teacher a larger class and they may well be good for more students. So, whatever drawbacks there may appear to be with the current bluster over class sizes (and that’s all I chalk it up to, from the district’s standpoint) are one a wait-and-see (and hopefully change if need-be) basis.

        There was however a very interesting note that will, to my mind, bring rather dramatic overall benefits (again, for less money): “Finally, the money saved will be used to hire a few more teachers and institute merit pay” – forget about the “more teachers” part, and focus on “merit pay”. Honestly, if you can institute merit pay, you will likely find high retention rates (and attraction rates) for talented, capable, results-producing teachers. That can only help this district. (Of course, total, uninhibited school choice would be even better – let the free market providers address the merit pay issues.)

        It actually speaks to a useful, broader post on what government involvement means for education anyway, but that is way off from this comment thread.

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