Promises Bought and Futures Sold
Julia Steiny is must-reading today:
After collecting my thoughts and temper, I wrote back. It seemed to me that teaching a child to read was the principal mission of any school and was, therefore, funded. Rhode Island has one of the highest per-pupil expenditures in the nation. If not to teach reading, what is it going to the schools for? The Regents were only trying to get children actual help, instead of letting them be subjected to Jurassic practices like being put in the dumb-kids’ reading group or passed on for the next teacher to deal with. That help seemed well funded already, at least to me. …
Too many people in Rhode Island are in the habit of thinking that the schools have the right to do whatever it is they’re already doing, effective or not, and expect that anything better has to be paid for as an extra. When research and experience in other states identify an educational best practice — for example, tailoring strategies to each struggling reader — our state’s taxpayers have to pay extra to implement it.
The problem is that reform-minded diktats from the state never touch on the core problem, which Steiny rightly identifies as unlimited collective bargaining rights, leading to such outcomes as this:
… the existing resources continue to shift away from kids to support benefits for adults. The Educational Intelligence Agency, a national watchdog, reports that Rhode Island’s public school population has dropped 4.6 percent since 2000-’01, while compensation to teachers went up 37 percent. Nationally, the average state enrollment has increased 2.5 percent since 2000-’01 while compensation went up 24.5 percent.
Frankly, I have a negative emotional reaction to unfunded mandates: If the educational bureaucracy of the state — with which the unions have made it their business to exert influence — wishes to send down requirements, then it seems only fair that the money to support them oughtn’t be derived from sources with which they are not connected (i.e., local and property taxes). But perhaps a case-by-case assessment is necessary. Really, how much funding is needed for the development of reading plans for individual students? That sounds like something that schools and teachers ought to do as a matter of course.
It may be that the very quality of unfunded mandates to which I have an adverse reaction speaks in their favor. They put pressure on an artificially constrained system, and the central and most costly constraint is the unionization of the teachers. In a system in which every new task or idea requires additional money, stuffing more of them into the bag will increase the awareness of those who ultimately have to carry it — taxpayers — and eventually enough of them will come to realize that our public servants have become our masters, foisting what ought to be their responsibilities onto our shoulders.
If we want to see this detrimental pressure removed from our educational system, we need take only one step: end the unionization of public school teachers. Taking that step, we could just watch how quickly the system would learn to right itself.