On Wednesday night the president talked about budgets and choices. Mr. Obama should know all about the synergy between politics, budgets, and education. He brought his model for investment in our public school system from Illinois (see: Blighted Fiscal Policy Travels From Illinois to the Oval Office), where Obama style investing in education has forced taxpayers to spend so much on government employee pension benefits that within three years the state will be spending more on public pensions than schooling children.
In the White House tome Teacher Jobs at Risk the president promised to put taxpayers on the hook for close to 400,000 teaching jobs. What he did not provide was a way for states to pay for his plan for investing in education without ongoing federal handouts. Education has become a fiscal black hole for states like Illinois, but the only solution offered by Democrats in Washington is digging a deeper hole by spending more public money.
How do we break up government, unions, and legislators?
Money is power and control. Allowing public officials and union leaders to ride herd over our public school system means there will always be a conflict between the need to feed state and local government coffers to pay for union negotiated pay and perks and the necessity of preparing our kids for the future. When Arne Duncan talks about education, we get platitudes:
And the choice facing the country is pretty stark – we are at a fork in the road. Some people see education as an expense government can cut in tough economic times. President Obama sees education as an investment in our future – the best investment we can make, especially in tough economic times.¹
Tough economic times mean pulling back, but when the White House discusses investing in education handing more money to teachers comes first (see: Why Teachers Crazed for Higher Pay Are Still Better Than You). In Chicago, tough economic times also mean that teachers are entitled to walk off the job until their demands for higher pay are satisfied.
Private and charter schools stayed open while teachers refused to teach.
Chicago teachers refused to come to work at the beginning of the new school year, but private and charter schools were up and running. Teachers unions in Illinois are unhappy with the non-union charter school concept, a mechanism for kicking big labor out of government’s bed and retaking control of an essential, taxpayer funded public service. When unions are unhappy, we know we are on the right track.
Illinois’ HJRCA 49 pension initiative is rejected by teachers unions. Why?
It would be best for everyone if Illinois disappeared over the edge of its own carefully constructed fiscal cliff. Any move to reign in employee costs in union-dominated sectors like public education is going to cause problems with big labor, but this fails to explain why Illinois government employee unions have a problem with something as inoffensive as HJRCA 49.
The initiative requires a 3/5 majority of both houses in Springfield to approve a hike in public pension benefits. These are the same legislative bodies that agreed to unaffordable pensions, failed to make required payments for the benefits they approved, and failed in their highly publicized last-ditch attempts to fix the problem. In Democratic Illinois HJRCA 49 is just another excuse for the legislature to keep doing what it has been doing all along under the guise of groundbreaking pension reform which does nothing to deal with the problem of underfunding for the benefits already approved.
Investing in education by trimming handouts is a better budget choice.
Less money mandates wiser choices. If you want to see what investing in education Obama style will get us look to Illinois, which reaps the benefits of federal education funds that fix nothing and only lead to more handouts. Look for Illinois’ pleas to Save Our State to turn to demands as pension obligations escalate and, along with those obligations, expectations of salvation with federal tax dollars.