When Government Unions Win, Everybody Else Loses

by TOM MCLAUGHLIN October 28, 2010
Not too much good news about public education coming out of our nation’s capital. Michelle Rhee resigned as chancellor of the Washington, DC school system. She was doing everything she could to break the left-wing teachers’ union’s power to protect its deadwood teachers and principals. She modified the teacher evaluation process by taking student progress on tests into consideration and she fired over 200 ineffective teachers and administrators. She had the support of Mayor Adrian Fenty, but other public employee unions including the infamously left-wing SEIU joined up to defeat him and pull the rug out from under Rhee. The American Federation of Teachers spent over $1 million in the effort.

Unions won. Students lost.
This came on the heels of another bit of bad news last year in our capitol city when Congress (which administers the District of Columbia) eliminated a school choice program for 1700 DC school children. President Obama, who sends his children to an expensive private school in DC, did nothing to support the school choice program for poor DC kids. Democrats are beholden to the teachers’s unions, which are the biggest supporters of that party nationwide, just ahead of trial lawyers. School choice anywhere it’s offered is anathema to teachers’ unions. Most of their political capital is spent defeating school choice (voucher) programs nationwide.

Here too, unions won. Students lost.

Shortly after Michelle Rhee resigned, the DC school system started feeding dinner to students as well as breakfast and lunch. According to an article at change.org, “This new early dinner program will feed 10,000 kids who may spend up to 10 hours a day at school in early-care and after-school programs.” So, now US taxpayers are feeding three meals a day to school kids in our nation’s capital. They’re spending ten hours a day in school with early care and after school programs, yet change.org is lamenting that food stamp aid may be cut to pay for it. “Forty percent of households reported not having enough money to buy food at least one time,” the article claims, and the federal government is “robbing Peter to pay Paul” when it cuts food stamps.

Why don’t those households have enough money for food when their kids are getting two or three free meals at school in addition to their food stamps? Are they bartering their food stamp benefits for other things on the street corner? According to an article in the Washington Examiner, the Washington DC school system has the fattest kids in the country. “The District has the highest childhood obesity rate in the country [according to] the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” yet we’re supposed to feed them still more? What the heck is going on down there?

Most newspapers report the per-pupil cost for DC schools at $13,000 per year, but if an article in the Washington Times is correct, the real number is $24,600! That’s the figure you get when you take all the money spent on the schools and divided it by the number of students. My only question at this point is: when are we going to provide beds for them? We babysit them before and after school, we feed them, we teach them to brush their teeth, teach them about the birds and the bees, provide counseling - so what’s left for parents to do? Where is it going to end?

The school choice program that Democrats in Congress cut cost the Washington DC school district only $7500 per pupil. At $24,600 per pupil the District spends, that would be a net savings of more than $17,000 per student. The 1700 students who took advantage of it were thriving. Their parents were happy with it too, but the teachers’ unions were not because it shone a bright light on what a bloated, corrupt education bureaucracy the unions created and preserved. If it expanded and was copied across the country, the teachers’ union monopoly would be smashed and Democrats would lose their biggest constituency. It had to go.

The federal government administers Washington, DC. Its schools are among the most expensive in the country, yet its students score among the lowest on standardized tests. If there’s a congressman or senator who sends his/her kids to the public schools in that city, I don’t know who it is. Nevertheless, that same federal government is taking more and more control of all the nation’s schools through an expanding US Department of Education.

As a long-time public school teacher, I don’t see that as an encouraging trend.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam. E-mail him at tommclaughlin@fairpoint.net.

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