Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The LuLac Edition #1292, Sept. 8th, 2010




Mark Guydish from the Times Leader had plenty to say about federal money coming in to help teachers educate our students. His points are pretty relevant given the return of the children to school as well as an election coming up where funding issues are bandied about.
Federal money for teachers won’t be a help
I’m going to take heat on this, particularly from teachers convinced I’m anti-union. I’m not, but neither do I assume unions can do no wrong.
The $10 billion in federal money approved last month to help save or preserve teacher jobs has all the markings of a misplaced priority. At best it is a band-aid poorly applied to a diffuse problem, a one-size-fits-all effort to stop bleeding from a thousand financial wounds, each with different causes (some self-inflicted).
At worst, it’s a cynical attempt to buy votes, made by a party facing a tough election.
The goal isn’t a problem. Helping districts keep teachers in school while avoiding draconian cuts or steep local tax increases makes some sense in this economy. A powerful argument can be made that this country achieved its pre-eminence in large part because of our commitment to free public education. The problem is the route taken to achieve the goal, and the timing.
Start with timing. The bill was floating around all summer, with the amount of money much higher in earlier discussions ($23 billion in May). But it wasn’t passed until August, after most districts had come to terms with their financial problems and approved budgets. Regardless of the original intent, that makes this “edujobs” bill look like a bid to shore up support from a party stronghold – the teachers unions – just as many Democratic lawmakers face tough fights in the November election.
Then there was the fluctuation in number of jobs the $10 billion was supposed to save. As the bill was pitched, it jumped around by tens of thousands. There were times when, by some estimates, the bill was going to save more jobs in a given district or state than had been lost. In fairness, this probably stemmed from media or politicians giving a single number when the experts making the estimates were giving a range, but it adds to the perception that this was a sales pitch for votes, not a policy decision based on sound statistics.
Determining district need
Which brings up the biggest problem with the bill: How do you determine which districts “need” it? Locally, most districts didn’t lay off any teachers, though a few opted not to fill positions made vacant through retirement. Yet all will get some of the money.
Nationally, there have been allegations that some union presidents told members there was no need to grant concessions in contract negotiations because the federal money was coming. Even if such stories are apocryphal or distorted, it seems inevitable that $10 billion in federal money that wasn’t part of the annual budgeting process will discourage useful efforts at curbing costs on the local or state level.
There are places where this money will be of immediate value. According to Education Week, Broward County Florida School District recalled 344 of 555 dismissed teachers once the bill was signed into law. But many districts don’t need the money this year, and are hoping instead to sock it away for next year, when money from the massive federal stimulus bill dries up. In Georgia, the governor’s office advised districts to do just that. Wyoming is debating if it’s even going to apply for the funds.
Such reports belie the claim that this money had to be approved immediately to avoid a crisis.
There are serious and complex public education funding issues this nation should debate and resolve. The edujobs bill looks like a slapdash effort to bypass debate with the misapplication of the word “emergency,” and we need to do better.
Mark Guydish writes a weekly opinion piece for the Times Leader.


At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BULLSEYE! and I'm a teacher.

I feel the same way about all the needless govt stimulus money aka slush fund. It isn't buying MY vote.


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