Author’s note April 15, 2020: two important events changed this discussion since the last update. Elizabeth Warren is out of the presidential race. It happened with barely a whimper. The other event is the arrival of the coronavirus. That one is a roar, but it may include a silver lining for taxpayers struggling to support the cost of public education. Scroll down to read today’s update.
Arne Duncan is long gone from Washington and longer gone from Chicago Public Schools, but even the six figure salaries1 he pushed for while commandeering the Department of Education aren’t good enough for striking Windy City teachers who expect us to believe that their long list of demands is all about the children.
Now Betsy Devos is at the helm. Democrats don’t like her. House Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) recently waved the subpoena flag at Devos over the failure of a line of for-profit colleges.
Teachers are not heroes. The real champions are unions.
Scott lamented the “millions of taxpayer dollars and the lives of thousands of students”2 impacted by the closings.
While he hopped on the Trump administration subpoena bandwagon, hundreds of thousands of students were not in class in Chicago because the city’s teacher’s union went on strike. While Scott’s party praises teachers as heroes, the real heroes for Democrats are unions:
One year after the Supreme Court discarded four decades of precedent to dismantle the rights of public sector unions, the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act would guarantee that public service employees can negotiate for fair wages and working conditions. This bill recognizes that unions are critical to rebuilding America’s middle class.3
In Chicago middle class children are not being educated because teachers want more money. No school for kids that taxpayers have funded is what negotiate means to these heroes and the CTU.
Taxpayers pay hero teachers to roam the streets
Liberal politics puts teachers on a pedestal that ignores the simple truth that these are employees we pay to do a job. Teachers are not heroes and certainly not superheroes. They choose their career path and have the option to do something else that meets their salary goals if they don’t like how much they are paid. Instead, they accept jobs in Chicago schools and then bow to union demands to refuse to teach our children because the salary and benefits aren’t good enough.
If that’s not enough, our hero teachers insult taxpayers’ intelligence by insisting that shutting down classrooms is for the benefit of the kids.
Don’t believe that the current CTU strike is about anything except money, whether that means more pay for teachers or more staff to bolster union membership. Chicago is strapped for cash. A city budget battle is underway. CTU wants to be first in line for its cut.
Taxpaying parents are the real heroes
When the current teacher’s strike ends, teachers will get more money. That’s how the system works. They will be better off. Kids will have lost days in school. Taxpaying parents will have been denied a public service they pay dearly for and many will lose pay and maybe their jobs because someone had to stay at home with the kids.
That’s why the real heroes of this joint Democratic Party-CTU scam are not teachers. The heroes are the parents who pay taxes and are thrown up against the wall to pay more for education even though state and city finances are already stressed to the breaking point by the ridiculous retirement benefits we hand out to these heroes of the classroom.
Illinois politicians on Capitol Hill back unions, not taxpayers, parents, and children
The crippling taxes that make life in Illinois practically unaffordable make no difference to Democrats. They keep coming back to the trough, hands out, so they can keep on spending. They will always argue that the real problem is top down inequality and not enough money from Springfield. The party’s insistence on allowing unions to weaponize public services will fall on deaf ears in a city run by the same party that believes big labor is the future of the American worker.
Whether it’s Springfield or Capitol Hill, the pandering to big labor never stops no matter the consequences.
Chicago Rep. Mike Quigley laid his party’s cards on the table when the Janus v. AFSCME ruling on union fair share fees was handed down:
As a proud Chicagoan, I understand the important role unions play in rebuilding and strengthening the shrinking middle class. I will continue to partner with my Democratic colleagues to defend unions and support legislative solutions that will guarantee that all public-sector workers have the freedom to stand together and negotiate for fair working conditions. Conservatives must stop attacking workers and start helping to create a system that benefits everyone.4
For those of you who paid your too-high property taxes and are using up vacation or sick days because Chicago’s hero teachers aren’t making enough money, is the system benefiting you?
Teachers are a public service. Unions take that service away. Democrats like Illinois’ far-left Representative Jan Schakowsky encourage them to do it, taxpayers and parents be damned:
I stand with the teachers and school staff currently on strike in the Chicago Public Schools. Every student in Chicago should have reasonable class sizes, and enough social workers, counselors, nurses, case managers and librarians to provide the best learning experience for all students.5
It’s hard to imagine how Schakowsky confuses the “best learning experience” with no school, but that’s how Democrats think and that’s why Chicago’s kids are not in school.
“Taxpayers” and “parents” were left out of her press release. So is the fact that this Democrat-run city is running close to a billion dollar budget deficit.
Bustos: no middle class without unions?
Failed mayoral candidate and Chicago Democratic Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia didn’t give any credit to taxpayers in his pro-union statement,6 either. 17th District Rep. Cheri Bustos went even farther and made an uncomfortable analogy to what is happening to taxpayers when she claimed that unions are the “tip of the spear:”
Unions have always been at the tip of the spear in the fight for better wages, affordable healthcare and safe working conditions. We simply wouldn’t have a middle-class without the work of unions over generations.7
Congresswoman Bustos should refresh her memory on how many Americans work for unions so she can tell constituents the truth. Despite Democratic Party wishes of a union-dominated workforce, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 10.5% of workers were backed by unions in 2018. Even public sector employees like teachers only claimed a 33.8% union share.
Democrats wrong about taxes, too
When Republicans lightened the tax load, Bustos objected and came up with her own plan for helping Americans put money aside for retirement:
In addition, it [SECURE Act] corrects the damaging consequences the GOP Tax Scam has had on Gold Star families after being hastily passed and raising tax rates on the children of our fallen heroes.8
She could propose that we lift the debt burden of public employee retirement benefits from Illinois taxpayers and let them save those tax dollars for later. Not only will that never happen, we all know that when Democrats have their way taxes only go in one direction.
That’s something Elizabeth Warren won’t say much about aside from her usual punish the rich rhetoric. She made a visit to Chicago last week to show where she stands.
Warren joins teachers, contributes nothing
Elizabeth Warren’s self-interested appearance with striking Chicago teachers last week spells trouble for taxpayers. We fall well below unions, LGTBQs, illegal immigrants, and other favorites on the Democratic Party food chain. Taxpayers exist to hand over money so people like presidential hopeful Warren can find ways to spend it to make themselves look good and advance their careers.
If Warren really cared about Chicago’s schoolchildren she could have taught class for a day while teachers roamed the streets. She used to be a law school professor. Isn’t this the sort of thing hero teachers do?
Repeat: teachers are not heroes
Demonstrators like to chant. It’s a simple, mindless thing to do while you’re standing around in your communist-inspired red shirt not working.
Slogans like “teachers are heroes” and even “teachers are superheroes” are simple and mindless, too.
Just because they are easy to remember and repeat doesn’t make them true.
Taxpayers and parents are the real heroes
I’m not a parent, but if I paid taxes in the city of Chicago and had to scramble to figure out what to do with my kids while the public employees I pay don’t work I would be angry.
If that scrambling included taking time off from a job with no pay that makes it more difficult to pony up those taxes to support teachers I would be livid.
None of this will matter to Quigley, Scott, Bustos, Schakowsky, Warren, Garcia, Warren, or any of the other pols who are firmly in the grip of America’s labor unions.
Hero teachers share the blame. After all, they are the ones who voted to strike. We are hearing anecdotal accounts of union members worried about how to make ends meet after a few days on the picket line. Given that many of these striking public employees already make more money than the national average, why is it our problem that they don’t have a few dollars saved for when they decide to deny an education to their city’s children?
Shelve the sympathy. Here are some real heroes:
The single working parent with two kids in school who struggles to pay taxes and keep food on the table, doesn’t make a fraction of the close to $100,000 salary teachers rejected, and can’t go to work because the union shut down the schools.
The small business owner who provides jobs, skips her own paycheck, and will be put out of business by the high taxes that support public employees.
The restaurant worker who helps support an elderly parent and won’t be needed because another proposed hike in the city restaurant tax keeps customers away.
Anyone who works hard to pay the bills, keep food on the table, and pay taxes to fund the salaries and enormous retirement benefits of teachers who hold parents, taxpayers, and kids accountable when they refuse to do the job we already pay a lot of money for.
These people are real heroes. Teachers? They are just workers looking for the next big pay raise.
UPDATE November 1, 2019: no heroes in this battle, only winners and losers
In retrospect it’s appropriate that the CTU strike ended on Halloween. The union’s denial of education to Chicago schoolchildren and their taxpaying parents is a scary lesson we should have thought about before we handed unions control of our public schools.
Who won and who lost?
Hero teachers won. They got more money by refusing to teach. Now we don’t have to listen to our educators whine about how a week or two without working puts them out on the street. They seemed comfortable enough marching in it for 11 days, so what’s the difference?
The union won. It got more members and, inexplicably, managed to drum up some support for members who would be fired immediately if they had jobs in the real world.
City Hall won. Now it can go to Springfield and ask for more money so it has someone to blame when city taxes have to go up to appease teachers. It’s fortunate for Chicago Democratic officials that government doesn’t generate any money, unless you consider creative taxes and fees profit. It only takes and spends, which means someone else has to be the big loser.
You know who that is, don’t you?
UPDATE April 15, 2020: will remote learning solve taxpayers’ teacher crisis?
According to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s March 30, 2020 remote learning directive schools will get a helping hand from the Chicago Public School System to set up their remote learning plans with “daily digital and non-digital learning opportunities.”9
The mayor confirmed that CPS got the job done very quickly:
It was a herculean effort to shift one’s curriculum to an entirely new medium—especially in such a short amount of time—and it’s a testament to the passion and commitment of Chicago’s entire education community that they have been able to do just that. While our schools remain closed, thanks to our city’s countless faculty and staff, education in Chicago remains open.10
This entirely new remote learning medium is also an entirely new opportunity for taxpayers. There isn’t really anything new about electronic instruction. There isn’t anything new about robot teachers for that matter, unless you live in the United States where public schools rely on human instructors and face-to-face interaction with students.
All that has changed now. Students are sitting at home in front of their laptops, tablets, and PCs. Schools stand dark and idle. Teachers have left the classroom. In many places education as we know it is dead and gone.
Three days ago the Illinois Policy Institute reported that Illinois bonds have the lowest rating of any state, just a bit higher than junk. The state Teachers’ Retirement System is paying out average lifetime benefits of more than $1.5 million.11 Illinois pension debt hovers somewhere between $137 billion and $234 billion.12 According to The Civic Federation the Chicago Public Schools pension system has accumulated nearly $12 billion in unfunded pension liability.13
This is all very bad news for taxpayers but it’s not where the bad news ends. Many of the taxes state and local governments rely on aren’t being collected. We aren’t driving, so no Pritzker higher gas tax and no red light camera tickets. We aren’t dining out or visiting entertainment venues. We aren’t shopping. Tourism and trade shows in Chicago aren’t happening. The highly taxed legal weed business is booming, but how much can we consume and how ethical is it to be pushing pot smoking when COVID-19 kills through our lungs?
Now we have an opportunity. Remote learning has started. We don’t need school buildings any more. If we follow the guidance of other countries and turn to robots and other kinds of e-learning we won’t need nearly so many teachers and teacher aides, either.
Computers are a lot cheaper than teachers. They don’t get sick so they don’t need health insurance or sick days. They never retire so they don’t need pensions, either. They are not employees. That means we don’t have to pay them.
Best of all, e-learning devices never go on strike.
As the viral shutdown plays out for weeks that will turn into months and drag into the new fall school season we will likely be embracing the same remote electronic learning we’re using now with a few months added to improve it.
Yes, we will still need teachers. Someone needs to design the curriculum. A human interface is a good thing, but ruined state economies may decide that humans are a learning luxury we can’t afford as much of as in the past. That could make COVID-19 a goldmine for states like Illinois where the cost of employing teachers is simply not sustainable.
Author’s note April 17, 2020: Illinois Governor Pritzker cancelled the remainder of the Illinois school year today. This should give school administrators lots of time to get ready for a fall e-learning start in lieu of any hope that this shutdown will end soon.
UPDATE May 14, 2020: House should protect taxpayers, not state teacher pensions
Democrats are so busy trying to muddy the water over who gets a cut of their absurd new $3 trillion bailout proposal that their jargon makes even less sense than usual:
Honors our heroes, by providing nearly $1 trillion to state, local, territorial and tribal governments who desperately need funds to pay vital workers like first responders, health workers, and teachers who keep us safe and are in danger of losing their jobs.14
The phrase “teachers who keep us safe” is making the rounds on Capitol Hill websites.15,16 If it’s repeated enough times maybe Dems can convince Americans it’s true. Teachers do good, honorable work but unless they are allowed to pack pistols in the classroom, which is something Democrats angrily oppose, how on earth do they keep us safe?
Keeping teacher retirements safe is an entirely different issue. In states with unsustainable pension debt closing the schools and replacing classroom instruction with remote learning is an opportunity to cut future revenue losses. The bad news for hero taxpayers who pay through the nose to support pension and benefit systems that any third grade math student can tell you are unaffordable is that closing schools is just an excuse to spread the debt around.
As the Tax Foundation observes, the House Heroes Act rewards bad behavior from fiscally irresponsible states with a $1.08 trillion handout that could go to failing public pension plans.17
There is another solution. It’s no surprise that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker balked at the suggestion from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that states might be allowed to go bankrupt. As Politico reports, Pritzker is not the only governor who is not enamored with the idea of throwing in the financial towel.18 With so much money available courtesy of taxpayers in other states to bail out phenomenally bad financial decision-making by Democratic Party-run legislatures, why should they have to?
UPDATE July 16, 2020: being a hero has limits, being a taxpayer does not
First it was LA’s school system. Today WGN News reports that the Chicago Teacher’s Union is sounding the alarm about in-person classes for 355,000 students this fall.
Once this ball gets rolling it will spread across the nation. Nothing Donald Trump can say or do will stem the tide of public school closures. In fact, his insistence on opening the schools will inevitably inspire pushback from Democratic cities.
Teachers educate. They don’t keep us safe.
The Heroes Act included teachers with the workers who save lives and put their own at risk.
Democrats pandering to public employee unions elevate teachers to hero status but they are not risking their lives on the front lines in hospitals or on the street. In many, if not most big cities the school year closed from the safety of teachers’ homes. That is exactly how and where it will start again in the fall.
I’m not a public health expert. I’m not a Democrat either, but I am a taxpayer. The first question that comes to mind is what happens with the property taxes that go to support teachers who aren’t actively teaching in schools with the lights turned off?
Chicago faces a horrendous budget deficit this year because of pandemic revenue loss. It’s not as if the city was in good financial shape before the virus hit, so taxpayers were already wary of when city Democrats would come knocking to be topped off again. Teachers will continue to earn ridiculous pensions while schools are closed and the taxpaying public is in the dark about just what their involvement is in whatever remote learning plan CPS will dream up.
Chicago isn’t special. Taxpayers will keep paying in every big school system run by Democrats as if nothing has changed. Worse, in cities like Chicago with enormous pension and other education debt taxpayers will eventually have to pay more to make up for the sins of the past while teachers who aren’t in the classroom continue to earn 100% of their budgeted salaries and benefits.
Teaching from home doesn’t make you a hero. Managing work and child care for a not happening school year does. So does being asked to pay more for schools that are closed and will continue to stay that way for the indefinite, uncertain future.
UPDATE August 8, 2020: how many Illinois teachers smoke marijuana?
Illinois doesn’t have much going for it and now the situation is worse than ever, but no one will argue that state-sponsored drug sales aren’t booming. Illinoisans and out-of-staters lured here by the promise of legal drugs are one of the only reliable sources of revenue during this pandemic even while Chicago demands quarantines for visitors from other states who could bring infection with them.
The risks posed by COVID-19 are one thing. The tax revenue from recreational drug sales is quite another.
Legal marijuana is the one item that seems exempt from public health recommendations. We’re not supposed to smoke. COVID-19 attacks the lungs so they need to be in tip-top shape. It’s best to avoid indoor spaces with other people now more than ever as the state’s numbers climb again. Public health officials worry about drug and alcohol use and opiate overdoses because of the pandemic, but marijuana is the new panacea for worry and anxiety.
What does this have to do with teachers not showing up for in-person learning in the fall? Chicago predictably caved to its all-powerful teachers union with last week’s announcement that CPS would resort to 100% remote learning for at least the start of the new school year. That’s a blow to taxpayers with or without kids who should not expect to see any rebate on their property tax bill even though they paid for a service that is denied by a powerful public employee union backed by Democrats.
Remember all this while you watch video on the news of people flocking to wait in line at pot shops statewide. Marijuana sales are an essential business in Illinois. The cash never stopped changing hands no matter the coronavirus numbers. Educating our children, on the other hand, is negotiable no matter how high our property tax bills.
I’d be curious to learn how many public school teachers who supported their union in denying in-person learning have visited a legal marijuana shop since the pandemic started? I don’t have any problem with teachers using legal weed, but sharing that indoor air with other people? Risky.
We’ll never know the answer to this question, but I’m guessing the number isn’t zero.
UPDATE September 25, 2020: hazard pay for hero teachers sets a very bad precedent for taxpayers
Anyone who works in our COVID-infested society is a hero just for getting up in the morning and going to work. Yes, that makes teachers heroes if they are in the classroom.
It also makes heroes of restaurant workers, office workers, theater ticket takers, gas station attendants, and everyone else whose job includes contact with other people.
Educators are Heroes Act asks for a 25% hazard pay raise
Pandemic hazard pay is not a new idea. It was proposed during the spring legislative session when the virus was raging and schools and businesses were shut down by state and local governments.
Rep. Kendra Horn’s (D-OK) “Educators are Heroes Act” proposes that the Dept. of the Treasury add 25% hazard pay to the paychecks of teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and other school staff.20
It’s not a surprise that Horn received union support for her bill. 21 That doesn’t make it a good idea.
This proposal places an invisible burden on states with overdrawn pension funds because it does not exclude the higher salaries from hazard pay from retirement benefits. Presumably that’s a problem for state lawmakers who will have a hard time saying no to teacher unions. Instead, they will dump the cost on overburdened taxpayers.
The press release announcing the Educators are Heroes Act is less than forthright. Horn states that:
A recent study estimated that out-of-pocket costs for a COVID-19 patient with insurance averages $38,221.22
That’s a stunning amount of money, but what she doesn’t mention is that her source is talking about a hospital stay and not recovering at home, which is the norm for most people.
Horn also doesn’t say how much she expects this to cost.
Schools can pay any hazard pay the way wish
There is nothing that prevents school districts from paying their teachers a premium to do their jobs. They can pay whatever salary and benefits they wish without taxpayers in other states footing the tab.
What’s so egregious about this legislation is that it ignores those at greater risk than teachers who are unable to screen the people they come in contact with. Think bus drivers and taxi drivers who get us to work and grocery store clerks who help keep us fed. They are heroes, too.
Why are teachers special?
Because it’s an election year. Public school teachers are one the Democratic Party’s primary sacred cows, but politics shouldn’t make any worker in this pandemic more special than anyone else.
It’s easy to take credit for bills that aren’t going anywhere and this is a prime example. With only four cosponsors even Democratic support for singling out hero teachers is less than tepid. That’s a lucky thing for taxpayers who haven’t even begun to see the consequences of the first round of federal stimulus handouts.
1. “Working Toward “Wow”: A Vision for a New Teaching Profession.” U.S. Department of Education. July 29, 2011. https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/working-toward-wow-vision-new-teaching-profession, retrieved October 26, 2019.
2. “Chairman Scott Threatens to Subpoena Secretary DeVos for Documents Related to Department’s Role in For-Profit School Closure.” Bobby Scott. October 22, 2019. https://bobbyscott.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/chairman-scott-threatens-to-subpoena-secretary-devos-for-documents, retrieved October 27, 2019.
3. “Top Democrats Introduce Legislation to Strengthen Collective Bargaining Rights for Public-Sector Union Members.” Bobby Scott. June 26, 2019. https://bobbyscott.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/top-democrats-introduce-legislation-to-strengthen-collective-bargaining, retrieved October 27, 2019.
4. “Quigley Statement on Janus v. ASFME Decision.” Mike Qigley. June 27, 2018. https://quigley.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/quigley-statement-janus-v-asfme-decision, retrieved October 25, 2019.
5. “Statement on the Chicago Teacher’s Strike.” Jan Schakowsky. October 21, 2019. https://schakowsky.house.gov/press-releases/statement-on-the-chicago-teachers-strike/, retrieved October 24, 2019.
6. “Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s Statement on the Chicago Teacher’s Strike.” Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia. October 17, 2019. https://chuygarcia.house.gov/media/press-releases/congressman-jes-s-chuy-garc-s-statement-chicago-teacher-s-strike, retrieved October 24, 2019.
7. “Bustos Statement on Supreme Court Ruling Against Hardworking Families.” Cheri Bustos. June 27, 2018. https://bustos.house.gov/bustos-statement-on-supreme-court-ruling-against-hardworking-families/, retrieved October 26, 2019.
8. “Bustos Helps Pass Legislation to Strengthen Illinoisans Ability to Save for Retirement.” Cheri Bustos. May 23, 2019. https://bustos.house.gov/bustos-helps-pass-legislation-to-strengthen-illinoisans-ability-to-save-for-retirement/, retrieved October 24, 2019.
9. “Mayor Lightfoot Announces Remote Learning Opportunities for Students at Chicago Public Schools and City Colleges of Chicago.” Chicago.gov. March 30, 2020. https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/ mayor/press_room/press_releases/2020/
march/RemoteLearningOpportunities.html, retrieved April 15, 2020.
11. Schuster, Adam. “Illinois Moves Closer to Becoming First ‘Junk’ State with Negative Credit Outlook.” Illinois Policy. April 12, 2020. https://www.illinoispolicy.org/illinois-moves-closer-to-becoming-first-junk-state-with-negative-credit-outlook/, retrieved April 15, 2020.
12. Schuster, Adam. “Illinois Pensions 101: Paltry Contributions Yield Million-Dollar Payouts.” Illinois Policy. January 17, 2020. https://www.illinoispolicy.org/illinois-pensions-101-paltry-contributions-yield-million-dollar-payouts/, retrieved April 15, 2020.
13. “Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund Provides Fiscal Year 2018 Results.” The Civic Federation. March 11, 2019. https://www.civicfed.org/civic-federation/blog/chicago-teachers-pension-fund-provides-fiscal-year-2018-results, retrieved April 15, 2020.
14. “House Democrats Introduce The Heroes Act.” House Committee on Appropriations. May 12, 2020. https://appropriations.house.gov/news/press-releases/house-democrats-introduce-the-heroes-act, retrieved May 14, 2020.
15. “House Democrats Introduce Heroes Act with Levin-Sponsored Funding for States and Small Cities, New Money for Contract Tracing and Workforce Development.” Andy Levin. May 12, 2020. https://andylevin.house.gov/media/press-releases/house-democrats-introduce-heroes-act-levin-sponsored-funding-states-and-small, retrieved May 14, 2020.
16. “Debbie’s Blog. Coronavirus update: May 13, 2020.” Debbie Dingell. May 13, 2020. https://debbiedingell.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=2378, retrieved May 14, 2020.
17. Walczak, Jared. “Under the HEROES Act, State Budgets Could Soar as the Economy Suffers.” Tax Foundation. May 13, 2020. https://taxfoundation.org/heroes-act-state-budgets-soar-economy-suffers/, retrieved May 14, 2020.
18. Kapos, Shia. “Pritzker Rejects the ‘B’ Word – It’s a Council War! – We’re at Peak for Deaths.” Poilitico. April 23, 2020. https://www.politico.com/newsletters/illinois-playbook/2020/04/23/pritzker-rejects-the-b-word-its-a-council-war-were-at-peak-for-deaths-489007, retrieved May 14, 2020.
19. “House Democrats Introduce the Heroes Act.” House Committee on Appropriations. May 12, 2020. https://appropriations.house.gov/news/press-releases/house-democrats-introduce-the-heroes-act, retrieved July 16, 2020.
20”Rep. Horn Introduces Educators Hazard Pay Bill. Bill would provide educators additional 25% hazard pay for required in-person work.” Kendra Horn. September 22, 2020. https://horn.house.gov/new/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=353, retrieved September 22, 2020.
Edited for clarity after original publish date of October 27, 2019.