Does Secretary of Education Arne Duncan work for taxpayers or teachers unions? Duncan agrees that states are out of money and talks about getting used to a “New Normal” because of the down economy. He also claims that teacher salaries should be as high as $150,000 per year. Has the zeal to appease the president’s supporters erased concerns about the economy, and our debt and deficit?
Last February, the Department of Education brought teachers unions to the planning table at its Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration (see: Is New Education Spending About Kids, or Benefits?). Partnering the taxpayer-funded Department of Education with taxpayer-punishing teachers unions is a glaring contradiction, but labor has a loud voice in this administration. Perhaps those who believe that public employee unions are interested in something other than financial gain will be gullible enough to cover the $150,000 teacher salaries our Education Secretary considers appropriate:
We should keep our best teachers in the classroom—and they should be earning a lot more money—as much as $150,000 per year.1
Elementary and secondary school teachers earned mean salaries of $56,050 in May 20102 for a 10-month school year. 3 Some states paid even more, like financially troubled New York (mean: $70,400.00), Illinois (mean: $67,110) and California (mean: $64,860).4 If teachers are unsatisfied with their pay, pension, and health care benefits, they should find something else to do, just like any other unhappy employee. Are Washington bureaucrats like Arne Duncan, who profess to sympathize with the middle class, so out of touch that they believe most occupations pay six figure salaries?
Let’s face it: a phenomenal teacher educating underserved kids in science, technology, math, engineering, or the arts should be very well compensated—just as they are in other professions.5
The Obama administration is unable to rid itself of the obsession to “invest” in our debt-ridden economy. Claiming that “We can’t mortgage our future by under-investing in education.”,6 the president’s Education Secretary would be wise to remember how “investing” in unaffordable mortgages helped cause the recession. Applying the invest label does not make something affordable. It just makes unaffordable spending sound less loathsome.
Taxpayers are required to pony up at the state and local levels for Washington’s hopelessly conflicted education policies. There is no dispute that our public schools are running on empty, which was one of the excuses for last summer’s Teacher Jobs Bill. Duncan tells us:
The federal government historically provides only about eight percent of all K-12 revenues. By contrast, states provide close to half of all public school revenues. With few exceptions, state budgets have yet to recover from the Great Recession.7
Public officials do not question the sanity of enticing illegal immigrants with the promise of free public education, citizenship in exchange for college attendance, and state offers of taxpayer-subsidized resident tuition. Not content with simply ignoring immigration status, the Department of Education believes we need to do even more for illegals:
But for far too many of these young students, the benefit of in-state tuition isn’t enough. Even with the reduced costs, college remains unaffordable for them. For those who can afford it, their choices are. [sic] Eventually, the earning power of a college degree is limited because they are unable to legally work and become full participants in the economy.
That’s why the federal government needs to offer low-cost loans and work-study opportunities and the potential for permanent resident status to our young people.8
What is it about the concept of being broke that is so elusive, and empowers public officials to admit that we are out of money while insisting that we continue to spend? The Obama administration is doing a clever job of imposing its misguided, special interest-centered education policies on taxpayers who bear the costs with their state and local tax dollars. Arne Duncan’s pot stirring is irresponsible. We cannot afford the teacher salaries he claims educators deserve. Riling teachers unions and convincing public sector workers that they are underpaid is not going to make money appear out of nowhere, even if taxpayers wanted to hike teacher salaries to $150,000. Bureaucrats should remember who they are asking to fund excessive public employee pay. 13.9 million jobless Americans would probably tell them that a salary of $56,050 with pension and health insurance benefits looks pretty good right now.