Earlier this month, the National Education Association held its annual convention in Chicago. This event-often livened up by the NEA's passionate denouncements of merit pay, homeschooling, and Republicans-ripped a page from the headlines (well, old headlines) by bringing onstage six members of the "Wisconsin 14" and awarding the group en masse its 2011 Friend of Education Award.
The 14, you may recall, found fame in flight, hunkering down in an Illinois Super 8 motel to deny Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker a quorum for his bill that would limit collective bargaining for public service unions. "Not since the Kardashian sisters," wrote Christian Schneider of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, "has any group of people been celebrated so much for doing absolutely nothing."
On the platform at Chicago's McCormack Place, rhetoric was the order of the day, some of it bearing labels faded with use: "working families" vs. "wealthy corporations," "principled stand" against "special interests." With all the cheering (see video clip below), it's no wonder everyone got caught up in the excitement of the moment and never stopped to think, what special interest? You mean, the taxpayers? Because that's where the money comes from to pay public sector union employees.
Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, the law was eventually passed despite the heroic motel-room occupation of the 14. And as predicted, the limits placed on collective bargaining have dumped public schools straight into the toilet. . . . No wait-from the Kaukauna School District, news that freedom from union pay grades and work rules have created an instant monetary dividend and greater potential efficiency. Teachers and staff will now be required to pay 12.6 percent of their health insurance coverage (up from 10 percent) and contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to individual pensions funds (up from 0 percent)-a savings that will wipe out the district's $400,000 deficit and create a healthy surplus.
As for efficiency, high school teachers will now be teaching six periods a day rather than five and spend 40 hours per week at school instead of 37-and-a-half. As a result, Kaukauna can reduce the size of its classes by an average of 3.5 students and carve out more time for teachers to spend with at-risk kids.
The figures tell the story, and Gov. Walker predicts his law will gain popular acceptance "with every day, week, and month that goes by that the world doesn't fall apart."
"Special interests" such as the NEA have raised over $4 million to see that the law falls apart. All they need are three state senate seats to go Democrat in the next election to stage a repeal of the law, which would inevitably be touted as a victory "for the children." It reminds me of those grand-sounding rationales from runaway moms 40 years ago: "My children need a mommy who knows who she is." In the same non-sequitous way, schoolchildren are supposed to benefit from public school employees who chop their hours, pay little or nothing toward their pensions, and can't be fired. That's an equation that doesn't add up.