Take a lesson from Wisconsin

So it looks like Gov. Scott Walker won’t be thrown out of office for getting the state out of business of collecting dues for the teachers union. Good.

Now that the political season is over (for a month or so!), the rest of the nation, including Kansas, ought to see what lessons it can draw. Here’s one: changing the rules concerning contracts and the business affairs of schools can keep teachers in the classroom. For example, districts have saved money by being able to shop for health insurance plans, rather than be the captive of the plans offered by the teachers union. As a result of the savings, they may in some cases not have to lay off teachers, which of course would mean larger classes–something that unions typically rail against. Here’s one story, admittedly from a pro-Walker source, that gives examples of cost savings.

Kansas, for its part, is enduring yet another legal challenge from school districts that want more money. Of course, who can blame them? If your boss offers you a raise, would you say, “Nah, I don’t need the money. You keep it?”

District administrators and teachers both face mandates from other people (the state school board, the Legislature, Congress). If they fail to comply with the requirements of No Child Left Behind–and compliance is at least partially out of their hands–they will be subject to disruptions to their business and professional lives. So of course, they’d like more money — from taxpayers. The Legislature hasn’t been as forthcoming as they’d like, so they turn to the courts.

But this move is all predicted on the assumption that there’s no room for cost-cutting or efficiencies–a heroic assumption, I believe.

Ending last in, first out (LIFO) employment practices, tenure, or the union scale may be all good things, and could save money. So could cutting through the red tape that entangles principals and teachers alike. But it won’t guarantee that all students will end up as “proficient” as defined by a standardized test. It’s foolish to think that any amount of money will guarantee any academic result. The best we can do is to make sure we spent money on education in the least bureaucratic way possible. Having the courts resolve a dispute between the Legislature and the education establishment won’t get us there.

 

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