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Forget Your Vacation, Come Bail Out Public Education



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The taxpayer-funded, $10 billion public-education bailout moved one step closer to reality today when the Senate voted 61–38 on a cloture measure, clearing the path for bill consideration toward the end of the week. Since the House has already left for recess, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to call members back for a vote, which she has promised to do.

Do teachers need lawmakers to leave the beaches and head back to Washington? Not if we’re to believe reports from school districts about their summer hiring. Mike Antonucci of the Education Intelligence Agency reports that schools have begun rehiring teachers despite the pink slips doled out earlier this year (and despite cries from the teachers’ unions and the Obama administration of catastrophic teacher layoffs if the bailout fails). According to Antonucci:

  • In Indiana, 148 of the 284 teachers laid off by the Fort Wayne Community School District have been rehired.
  • The Hesperia Unified School District in California decided to rescind the pink slips of 77 teachers that had been laid off earlier this year.
  • The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina conceded that the state’s budget woes were overblown, and has decided to hire back 141 teachers that were previously laid off. The district also noted that 120 more teachers could also be rehired after budget talks conclude.
  • In Ohio, a budget deal reached with the Cleveland Teachers Union will likely mean that a majority of the 545 teachers laid off in the spring will get their jobs back.
  • The Broward County School District in Florida will be rehiring 465 teachers who were laid off earlier this year.

These pink-slip rescissions likely represent a larger trend nationwide. It’s common practice for school districts to overestimate the number of teachers that will be laid off in advance of budgets being set, and in advance of the school year. What is less common is the federal government stepping in to bail out state budgets to “save” public-education jobs.

But when the largest political contributor to Congress asks members to jump, they catapult their way into more deficit spending. The two national teachers’ unions — the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) — contributed more than $70 million to campaigns during the 2007–2008 season, with 95 percent of contributions going to Democrats and left-leaning causes.

Teachers’ unions, members of Congress, and the Obama administration claim that the $10 billion public-education bailout would save 100,000 teaching jobs. That means taxpayers will be paying $100,000 per job — nearly double the national average for teacher salary, $54,000. Moreover, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 57 percent of teachers are unionized. Using a conservative estimate of $300 in annual dues paid, the NEA and AFT have a minimum of $24 million in dues at stake.

To recap: School districts are rehiring teachers without a federal bailout, but the administration and certain members of Congress claim catastrophic layoffs will occur if Washington doesn’t do something. Teachers’ unions are huge contributors to campaigns, and likely have about $24 million in dues at stake in the debate.

To give this effort a little perspective, the $10 billion bailout comes on the heels of the $100 billion in “stimulus” money that was appropriated to the Department of Education last year. That effectively doubled the agency’s budget from 2008 to 2009, and President Obama hopes to increase it by another 10 percent in 2011.

Congress and the Obama administration have lobbied nonstop for increases in education spending since they came into office, and this $10 billion bailout is their latest attempt. Yet the tiny $13 million D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is successfully providing vouchers to low-income children in the nation’s capital, is being phased out.

Anyone who doubts the power of organized labor in education should just follow the money trail.

Lindsey Burke is a policy analyst in domestic-policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.



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