Wisconsin Teachers Run the End Around

On a day when the Green Bay Packers begin defending their Super Bowl title, it seems fitting that Wisconsin public-school teachers have begun running their own version of the famous Packer Sweep to get around the state’s new collective bargaining law.

Just last week, the Associated Press reported that teacher retirements had doubled as a result of Gov. Scott Walker’s new law requiring increased pension and health contributions by state and local government employees. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, many public workers feel “under attack” by the measure that required them to pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits and took away most of their ability to collectively bargain.

Yet, as the newspaper reported today, plenty of teachers are apparently willing to weather Walker’s “attack,” as many of them are returning to the classroom with different pay arrangements. The new collective bargaining law gives districts the flexibility to hire back recently retired teachers at similar or reduced salaries, without the districts having to pay the rehired teachers’ health or pension benefits. Teachers feigned offense when retiring, but now they are willing to work in these supposedly oppressive jobs while collecting both a current salary and generous pension benefits.

Therein lies the danger in this situation: Not only are teachers collecting a salary close to their original level, they are “double dipping” by collecting their pensions contemporaneously. Such double dipping arrangements have prompted scandals in other states; in 2010, Florida had to ban the practice altogether after nearly 9,700 workers were found to be benefiting from such arrangements. (The state instituted a six-month waiting period for retired workers to be hired back.)

Double-dipping schemes also serve to keep long-term, high-salaried employees in positions where younger, less expensive employees would suffice. New teachers are squeezed out of newly open instructional positions, as preferential treatment is given to the teacher that held it previously. Often, such arrangements run afoul of government rules requiring a fair and open hiring process.

This news comes on the heels of a report issued by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that purports to show Wisconsin has cut aid to schools the most of any of the 24 states the center studied. Of course, the report completely ignores the new revenue brought to governments by the increased health and pension benefits, which is more than offsetting the $800 million reduction to schools passed by the legislature. Miraculously, Democrats in Wisconsin are willing to forget the hundreds of thousands of people who showed up at the state capitol to protest the new contributions, as long as it makes it appear as if Governor Walker is “gutting” education.

And it is those increased contributions that are allowing school districts to hire back many of these theatrically “aggrieved” teachers, who now get to cash their pension checks while retaining their jobs. Instead of teachers spending the next year trying to recall Walker from office, maybe a simple “thank you” would suffice.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

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