Thursday, August 23, 2007

Monopolists and politicians band together against students.

One of my earliest memories of school days, most of which were just a blur, was the time the teachers went on strike. Of course, we students were enthusiastic supporters of the teachers. It wasn’t that we cared one twaddle about their contract. But when they were on strike we were off from school. Our self-interest happened to coincide with their self-interest. But I learned, over the years, that the self-interest of the teachers and that of the students often do not coincide. And when they conflict the teachers, with some notable exceptions, will screw over the students.

The teacher’s unions are powerful lobbies for a special interest group -- their members. And teachers will use emotive language about the “good” of the children while lobbying for their own financial well being. Now, the optimal situation for the teachers themselves, for setting teacher benefits, is to have a monopolistic provider of education negotiating with a labor monopoly. And if the monopolistic provider is a bunch of third rate politicians more the better.

The union knows it can pour money into campaigns, in the name of the children of course, to unseat recalcitrant politicians who don’t obey the orders of the union to fleece the taxpayer for more benefits for teachers. Unions love it when politicians are the providers because Big Labor are experts at manipulating the political system for their own self-interest, no matter the actual consequences to the students.

For instance, the unions frequently have pushed through regulations which make it almost impossible to fire lousy teachers. Bad teachers harm generations of students. But the unions lobby to defend those crappy teachers from any discipline. And perhaps it ought to be that way. The union’s job is not to provide a quality education to students. It is to give teachers as much as possible out of the public purse. They do their job and they do it well. Teachers benefit and students get screwed over. Politicians get rewards and taxpayers pay the bills.

Politicians tend to line up to kiss ass when the teacher’s union comes along because it is powerful. Some years ago, in a previous existence, I ran for office. And our campaign headquarters was calling voters. I, like the campaign volunteers, was on the phone as well. I hated campaigning with a passion. But we had a bank of phones and I was on one calling around.

We would ask people what they thought about five different issues. If they agreed with my position on 3 or more of those issues we would inform them and ask them if we could send them campaign literature. The only call I remember was when I got a teacher on the line. She outrightly stated: “When it comes to voting I just follow the instructions of the union.” Well, no wonder so many students turn out to be independent thinkers. But lots of teachers act the same way. They obey orders and do what the union tells them to do. And that means they vote according to union dictaates and fund campaigns according to union preferences.

The teacher’s unions hate non-political education -- that is any education provided outside the direct control of the politicians. It makes it much harder, if not impossible, to manipulate the system in order to pick the pockets of taxpayers while providing mediocre education, if one is lucky. To maximize the profit of its members the union has to do what it can to protect a state educational near-monopoly. And that means smashing, when possible, alternative education.

I previously reported on a successful alternative school in Dayton, Ohio. Most the students were African-American and the students came from mostly impoverished families. Yet all the graduates had been accepted into university. The teachers at this school are dedicated to helping the students. And most are union members and the school was a state funded alternative school. It was rare in that it worked well.

But when the budget for the school district required cutting the union demanded that teachers be fired according to seniority not their teaching skills. Good teachers were to be fired, if only recently hired, while crappy teachers had job security merely for hanging on for so long. That is how the union puts the needs of students first.

Utah recently passed a universal voucher system for students. Each student, who prefers an alternative school, will receive a fraction of the funding that would have gone to the school and that funding will follow the student to the alternative school. It cuts education costs because no student receives the full amount that would have paid their state schooling. The students and their parents have more choice and are happier. State education has a little less income but a lot less expenses. And their classrooms aren’t as crowded -- they used to say that was a problem.

I thought that the progressive and political Left community ought to embrace this and open alternative schools themselves. Utah is pretty much a Republican monopoly and I felt that humanist, secularists, such as myself, would prefer to have schools teaching “our” values as opposed to those which push a Theopublican agenda. I urged non-Republicans to embrace the voucher system in order to create real diversity in Utah by opening alternative schools.

But the Utah Education Association, the big labour front for the teachers, is pushing to eradicate vouchers. There must be no choice for students. The ability to manipulate the political system for the benefit of teachers, at the expense of taxpayers and students, must not be threatened. Big Labour is throwing in millions to push for a referendum so that they can spend more millions in order to scare voters with false claims about the evils of chose in education. And the Democrats are lining up with the labor monopoly. There is no surprise there.

With money from the unions, a front group has gathered signatures to strip choice from the system. Now the battle goes to the voters directly and you can bet that the teacher labor monopoly will inundate little Utah with cash in order to protect their self-interest. They will use every myth and lie they can muster.

They will say it strips money from public education, ignoring the fact that it increases funding per remaining student in the state system since departing students remove all their direct costs but only a portion of their financing. They will say it creates segregation even though private schools tend to be more ethnically and economically diverse than most state schools. What they won’t say is that this threatens the perks of the unions. And the Democrats won’t say that they are in bed with this labor monopoly.

The more secure the educational monopoly the more the teachers can receive in benefits. They, in turn, have to give a fair percentage of those funds to the union as a protection racket. And the racketeers have to buy off the politicians to keep the vicious cycle going. The politicians find it easiest to purchase support from the Democrats. So the Democrats are loyal to the unions -- and well they should be, a dog should always obey the master who feeds him.

The sad thing is that the students may well end up stripped of choice to placate the greed of the members of Big Labour. And the chance to build decent, secular schools that promote basic liberal values will be destroyed to protect the self interest of teachers, their unions, and some politicians.

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