Instead of Facing Up to the Budget Crisis, the Unions and their Friends Change the Subject

By 01/05/2011

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The New Year is shaping up just as I predicted, with Diane Ravitch and the teachers unions criticizing budget-cutting proposals but offering no real alternatives of their own.

The case they are making–and it’s not completely crazy–is that states should “tax the rich” instead of carry out draconian cuts to education. (See this Shanker Blog post, for example, or this one from Ravitch.) I’m not an expert on tax policy, but as a private citizen my gut says that’s a strategy for prolonging the recession. More importantly, raising taxes in the current political environment is a total non-starter. Diane knows that. The unions know that. So why not offer serious proposals to rein in spending, too?

In the absence of new ideas–and different policies–local districts will carry out predictable and harmful cuts that will hurt kids and impede achievement. Because of “last hired, first fired” laws and tenure protections, they will lay off thousands of young teachers, regardless of their effectiveness. Because of collective bargaining agreements and state policies on salary schedules, they will be unable to rethink teacher compensation or ask employees to pay their fare share for health care–forcing cuts in other areas, like art and music programs or extra-curriculars.

None of these options are attractive, but some choices are less bad than others. Don’t want to see cuts to pre-K? Then offer an alternative. Hate the idea of raising class sizes? Then what else?

We’re entering a difficult period for American education. The cuts in several states (Ohio and California come to mind) are going to be dramatic, historic, unprecedented. There are better and worse ways to carry out those cuts. It’s time for all responsible parties to come to the table with serious solutions–and before the angry mobs start marching in the streets.

-Mike Petrilli

Comment on this article
  • Tim McClung says:

    Is it time to transform the funding of student learning? I am curious if state and district fiscal administrators have heard about or read about the work being done at the Center for Reinventing Public Education on Finance, Spending and Productivity.

    “Unlike traditional school finance research, which tracks how funds are distributed among school districts, we focus on how money is used at the district and school levels, and how different uses of funds affect children’s learning opportunities. We hope to help district and school leaders see the consequences of current and possible alternative ways of spending money, and to help educators use every dollar to the maximum benefit of students. Further, we aim to explain the connections between policy at all levels and the ways in which resources are ultimately brought to bear on students.”

    Many of the solutions or pathways to the solutions that are missing in the discussion can be found here.

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