In a case of remarkably unfortunate timing, the Aspen Institute just released a report praising the cooperation of administrators and the teachers’ union of Pittsburgh schools in devising strategies for improving education. A key element in the plan, developed using Gates Foundation funding, is an academy to train new teachers. Unfortunately for the academy, budgetary pressures have forced the school district to cancel the program. New teachers may face layoffs after moving to the city.
And what does the new superintendent tell the Gates people? The teacher training was to be a centerpiece of efforts to improve education in the City. After years of new programs designed by legions of "education" experts over multiple decades, the academic performance in many Pittsburgh schools has descended to levels that can only be described as dreadful.
What a shame the Gates Foundation has so much money to waste on yet another doomed to fail experiment. Too bad it did not offer $40 million in scholarships for students to get out of the failing schools into a chance for a good education instead of funding more experimenting with public schools-the money pit of government run programs. A serious exodus of students to non-public schools might actually create incentives to improve in the public schools. But even if it does not, at least the scholarship users would get a better shot at a good education.
And true to form, the Aspen education expert was quoted as lamenting any cuts in state funding for public education. Perhaps his study did not uncover, or chose to ignore, the outrageous per student spending in Pittsburgh or the huge run up in non-teaching employees during the last decade. Devotees and defenders of public education just cannot bring themselves to admit the fundamental flaws inherent in government run monopolies.
Speaking to group of Pennsylvania teachers on June 22, Governor Rendell tried to make the case for asking the Legislature to approve an additional $355 million in education spending in the 2010-2011 budget. In his remarks he said school district budget cuts are hurting schools across the state. To illustrate this claim he pointed to Penn Hills where 49 teachers have been furloughed. Too bad the Governor’s aides had not read the news accounts regarding the furloughs.
With school districts facing as much as a sixfold jump in the amount they must pay for teacher pensions by 2012, teachers are very worried that school boards will have to cut programs and/or staff.
School districts and teacher unions are asking Harrisburg for a fix that will help cover the additional funding. Good luck with that. The state faces its own enormous pension payment increase and its finances are very shaky with looming huge deficits.
What to do? If teachers and their union leadership want to avoid program and staff cuts, they should offer to help. They should agree: (1) to accept a voluntarily salary freeze and (2) agree to pay more for health care. These actions would help to offset some of the impending huge pension payment increases.
Union leaders argue that school districts have been derelict by underpaying into the pension system. Maybe they should consider that the strident position taken by unions during bargaining, backed by the right to strike, have already stretched to the limit the ability of taxpayers to support schools. No group has fared better economically than Pennsylvania’s teachers during good times and bad. Virtually no layoffs, protection of underperformers, excessive, blind support by Harrisburg of the public school system, and lack of accountability are the real problems. Addressing those is the best place to start. In the meantime, let’s see if teachers are willing to offer school districts any help with the pension payment hike.