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Dare we hope?

August 1, 2012

There are occasional breaths of fresh air out there that indicate that the American ideal and attitude is not completely gone. Sometimes you have to wonder, given the near-infinite sources of ‘news and information’ now available to us, if the people of this great country have completely lost their minds. Then there are other small hints that the spirit is still there and we will get through this time just as we got through WW2, the 60’s, Rock-and-Roll and all of the other historical assaults to our way of life.

I talk, of course, about recent events within our public school system. The one that used to represent the best on the planet, producing some of the greatest minds in the history of the human race. Well, except for the Mayans…

Our public school system has devolved into a corrupt self-serving union-controlled mess whose end product is a very under-educated generation whose minds are filled with entitlement-driven thoughts and little real knowledge. I generalize, there are islands of exception and there are great teachers out there, but neither of these are in any way encouraged by the present school system.

This all started when the public employees were given the right to collective bargaining. Oh, you can argue the point, which the left always does, but the evidence is more than clear. The unions figured the system out first, and went to town. They got their ‘people’ elected to the school boards and as local legislators, resulting in the unions negotiating for benefits and salaries with themselves. When you have the same team on both sides of the table, and you are dealing with an infinite source of money (you just raise taxes to get more), things will get out of hand quickly. And they did. The actual education of the student took a far backseat to higher pay, job protection, huge pensions, crazy benefits and the like to the point where only a fraction of every dollar spent on local education actually ends up in the classroom. We reached the point where the first thing cut is paper supplies and athletic programs because the union contracts are iron-clad and nobody has any incentive to change it. They are all attached to the same nipples and nobody will let go. At least not until forced.

So, we spend massive amounts of dollars per student now and have arguably the worst education system in the world. Well, I’m not sure what they do in Somalia, but it can’t be a lot worse. The rule is that the teacher with the longest tenure is the last to go, regardless of how terrible they are at actually teaching. The new energetic teachers are the first to go whenever budget cuts are required. One State laid-off a new teacher that had just won the Teacher-of-the-Year award from the Department of Education because they had only two years of tenure and someone had to go. There is no measurement of teaching ability, the unions fight it every time it is brought up as ‘biased and unfair’ somehow. States are going broke with the pension burden of the public employee. In Oregon 12-15 years ago the public employees unions (PERS) ‘negotiated’ a pension system that GUARANTEED an 8% return every year, no matter what. In the boom years when the return was 10-12%, they kept it all. In the more typical lean years when an 8% return was/is nothing more than a faint dream and actual returns were/are more like 2%, they continue to grow their benefits by 8%. The difference comes out of the education fund, the same one that is supposed to pay for paper ande sports. Oregon, (one of many States in the same, um, state), is going under to the point where the ultra-liberal newspaper The Oregonian is actually going after PERS. It is that bad. Libs fighting unions! You can’t be serious…

So, what about the glimmer of hope I promised? There have been a number of examples of sanity returning to the system. Wisconsin is a great example. Scott Walker eliminated collective bargaining for public employees. Costs went down. Weird. Chris Christie in New Jersey has gone toe-to-toe with the unions and beaten them back. I have read several recent examples where parents (remember them, they create children?) have started rebelling against the system. Charter schools are returning results that should be embarrassing the public school system. Instead the unions call them ‘unfair’. The tax-paying population of this great country has lost confidence in the system, and they are actually starting to do something about it.

There are many current examples of plummeting attendance in public schools as parents are pulling their kids out of this very sick system and finding alternatives, be they charter schools, private schools or even home schooling. When the public system is spending, on average, $9 to $15 thousand dollars a year per student ($30,000 in Washington DC) parents are starting to realize that that same money will fund a kick-ass education in charter or private schools.

There is a recent example of a school system in California that was actually, quite legally, taken over by the parents and turned into a charter system. The unions fought it hard of course, but in the end the courts gave it to the parents, as it should be. The unions are gone, the worthless teachers are gone, costs are down and school is back in session.

To me this all means that we still have limits as to how much crap we, the American tax-paying kid-raising population, will put up with from public sector unions, abusive legislators and poor results. Hopefully this trend continues this fall and we march into 2013 (if there is a 2013, can’t forget the Mayans…) with a renewed spirit and feeling that we don’t have to continue our descent into the madness of social engineering and out of control governments run by unions.

Dare we hope.

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