When the president’s cronies talk about planning for the 21st century we should assume they are up to no good. Arne Duncan is still hard at work helping the president level the playing field while trying to free up money to appease teachers’ unions. If Democrats get what they want, expect to downgrade your hopes for your children’s futures.
Claiming that we need a “radical transformation” of teaching,¹ the Department of Education’s newest scheme for our schools is RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching). The $5 billion proposal purports “To support the work of transforming teaching into a 21st century profession . . .”,² another take on the Democratic theme of the underpaid, unappreciated teacher. One of RESPECT’s goals, “competitive compensation,” brings back memories of Duncan’s remarks about paying good teachers $150,000 salaries (see: Will Taxpayers Support Raising Teacher Salaries 165%?).
The outlook for taxpayers and their kids is bleak as the continuing big government takeover of education threatens to drive up state debt by empowering public employee unions while the president threatens colleges that raise tuition. Duncan should be very familiar with the consequences of over generous public employee retirement packages. His last job was overseeing Chicago’s school system, an important component of Illinois’ plan to drive itself into bankruptcy with pension debt.
Given Duncan’s pursuit of exorbitant teacher pay, RESPECT sounds suspiciously like an election year sop for unions and a foot in the door to raising the standard for compensation across the board. Democrats have a bad habit of convincing voters that America’s fate depends on the success of their favorite special interests, and the downgrading of our kid’s futures is an unfortunate part of this strategy. The Obama administration has already shelved what used to be an unquestioned part of the American Dream, the idea that all students should attend four-year colleges:
And finally, to make sure anyone can get trained and prepared for whatever career they pursue, we want to revitalize America’s community colleges. Not everybody needs to go to a four-year college.³
Never mindful of contradictions, the president has also criticized our education system for doing too little, and not being up to the standards of countries that are cranking out America’s gifted competition:
As the President said, the nations that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why he is committed to increasing the number of college graduates in America, so that we will once again lead the world in the percentage of our citizens with a college degree.4
Despite the president’s fears of America being the dummy country on the block, last month Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Jill Biden embarked on a bus tour to promote community colleges, schools the White House made sound like a compromise during a 2010 summit:
For generations, these schools have been an option for many students who didn’t have other options: recent immigrants, working adults, or students who could not afford or were not quite ready for a four-year institution.5
Nevertheless, taxpayers are being told that this is all about our government seizing the 21st century. A community college degree might be all that Democrats believe your children need to succeed, particularly if their policies make a four-year degree unaffordable:
Community colleges are uniquely positioned to provide the education and training that will prepare students for the jobs in the 21st century.6
Like Latinos, a special interest the Obama administration has a soft spot for, community colleges are the key to our future:
Community colleges are absolutely critical to reaching this goal, and to ensuring out [sic] country’s economic prosperity in the future. That is why the President has also challenged all of us to graduate an additional 5 million community college graduates by 2020.7
Latinos and community colleges are “inextricably linked,” to borrow a White House phrase. We are going to have to spend lots of money to educate immigrants from south of the border because they are unlikely to have incomes that would make college affordable. According to the Congressional Budget Office:
Nevertheless, those born in Mexico and Central America are constituting an increasingly large share of the least educated portions of the labor force. For example, in 2009 they made up 64 percent of labor force participants with at most an 8th grade education—a figure that was 58 percent in 2004.8
In 2009, 71% of immigrants in the U.S. illegally were of working age.9 9.6 million members of the labor force were born in Mexico and Central America, an increase of 5 million from 1994.10 Coincidentally, the figure is identical to the president’s 2020 goal for college graduates. Before a 2010 meeting on raising college attendance among Hispanics the Department of Education stressed the college graduation goal:
Key administration officials and education leaders will gather for a National Education Summit and Call to Action Monday in Washington, examining how to increase education access for Hispanic Americans, improve their lives and help the nation achieve the highest college attainment rate in the world by 2020.11
Instead of setting our sights lower for the benefit of special interests and favorite causes, we might acknowledge that targeting groups for government beneficence is a policy doomed to fail. Instead, everyone would benefit if states lightened their load by changing teacher compensation packages. Pension debt is crushing states like Illinois. We should reject appeals outright that ask us to pay absurdly inflated salaries. If teachers do not believe they are making enough money teaching, they should do something else. We could even go out on a limb and stop demanding that states pay to educate the children of illegal immigrants. Instead of finding reasons to spend more money, we could take a fiscally responsible route and slash education spending that does nothing except bring in Democratic votes. At least when you tuck your children into bed at night and they ask “What will I be when I grow up?” you won’t have to answer “I don’t know. That’s depends on what unions, immigrants, and Democrats want.”