The Corner

The Straight Line Between Collective-Bargaining Reform and Walker’s Budget

On Tuesday, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker introduced a state budget that would reduce statewide K–12 public-school funding by $834 million. According to Walker, these cuts will be mostly offset by the teacher pension and health-care contributions he’s seeking.

The state’s two largest newspapers both described Walker’s budget as “slashing” education funding. Another article said Walker was “stripping” school districts of cash. (Notice that the media save these apocalyptic terms for funding cuts; had Walker increased spending by $834 million, there’s a zero percent chance you’d see an article describing his “corpulent” funding increases.)

For the past several decades in Wisconsin, the media have been able to write the same story over and over about school-district “cuts:”

The [insert name] school district today announced it would need to lay off [number] of teachers due to what they deemed the [harsh/severe/draconian/disgusting] cuts in Governor [name]’s biennial budget. According to superintendent [name], the district will begin looking at cutting [math/English/science] classes and may need to discontinue the [sport] team.

In order to cut costs, students will only be taught 23 of the 26 letters of the alphabet. “Sorry ‘Q,’ you’ve been let go,” said superintendent [name] . . .

In Wisconsin, school funding is a mousetrap that always favors the mouse. Around two-thirds of local school districts are funded by the state; if the state has to reduce that aid, districts have the ability to make up the difference by raising dreaded property taxes — which is why, despite districts’ constant complaints about “cuts,” total school spending rose 12.7 percent between 2006 and 2010.

In response, Walker has taken the unprecedented step of reducing the total amount per pupil that districts can spend (by 5.5 percent), in order to keep his proposed aid reduction from simply being shifted to a local tax.

This is where you can draw a direct line between the collective-bargaining changes Walker is seeking in his now-famous budget-adjustment bill and the budget bill introduced this week: He is trying to give school districts a new, non-traditional way to handle budget reductions. Walker’s collective-bargaining changes would help school districts make up the money they will lose from the property-tax cap (around $470 million.)

For example, as a result of collective bargaining, 65 percent of Wisconsin school districts require their teachers to be covered by WEA Trust, a health-insurance company owned by the teachers’ union. Without collective bargaining, those districts can save up to $68 million by taking their health-care business to the open market, according to Walker’s estimate.

Curtailing collective bargaining would also alter the teacher-certification process, which is almost entirely controlled by the teachers’ union. Currently, certification is used to keep otherwise qualified individuals from competing for teacher jobs. With the licensure process altered, school districts could make better use of part-timers and volunteers who want to help schools but currently aren’t allowed in the door.

The list goes on. Walker’s plan would likely eliminate the heavy bias against younger teachers that current union rules have. Many districts have adopted “last in, first out” policies that defenestrate young, inexpensive teachers over older, salary-heavy teachers when budget cuts come. Without stringent union seniority rules, districts could ameliorate budget reductions by keeping greater numbers of fresh-faced and energetic teachers.

Eliminating teacher tenure. Increasing use of school choice and charters. Altering post-employment benefits. All are money-saving tools available to school districts that they couldn’t use when hamstrung by cumbersome teacher contracts.

Of course, just because Walker is offering state education reporters a much more nuanced and interesting way of covering the aid reductions, it doesn’t mean many will take him up on the chance. Many will just fill in the blanks of the traditional print lede with whatever hysterical predictions school administrators provide. By the time this budget is over, you’ll probably be hearing stories of how students have quit running lemonade stands and are now selling vials of their own blood on street corners to help their schools survive. Union leaders will tell tales (as they have in the past) of how teachers are being forced to eat dog food because of their low wages.

But this is why Walker has stood strong on his collective-bargaining proposal. If it passes, it can help school districts use their increased flexibility to spare a lot more teachers. If it doesn’t, be sure to buy stock in Alpo.

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

Most Popular

Trump vs. Biden: A Rundown

One week out, the contrasts are worth assessing. Foreign policy Biden so far has issued no substantive critique of Trump’s foreign policy other than banalities that Trump’s comportment and unpredictability have offended allies and tarnished America’s reputation. But who exactly, according to Biden, is ... Read More

Trump vs. Biden: A Rundown

One week out, the contrasts are worth assessing. Foreign policy Biden so far has issued no substantive critique of Trump’s foreign policy other than banalities that Trump’s comportment and unpredictability have offended allies and tarnished America’s reputation. But who exactly, according to Biden, is ... Read More
Elections

The Only Middle Finger Available

If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture. After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports ... Read More
Elections

The Only Middle Finger Available

If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture. After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Kavanaugh Court

If Justice Barrett votes as her mentor Justice Scalia did, she will be part of an ascendant conservative majority on the Supreme Court. What kinds of decisions can we expect from this majority? Short answer: Ask Brett Kavanaugh. Contrary to how journalists frame each seat change on the Court, comparing the new ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Kavanaugh Court

If Justice Barrett votes as her mentor Justice Scalia did, she will be part of an ascendant conservative majority on the Supreme Court. What kinds of decisions can we expect from this majority? Short answer: Ask Brett Kavanaugh. Contrary to how journalists frame each seat change on the Court, comparing the new ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Some Counterfactual Thinking

Election Day is one week away. Can you believe it? On the menu today: contemplating what would be different, and what would be the same, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired in 2013 instead of staying on the Court until her death earlier this year; a couple of flubbed words on the campaign trail; yes, people really ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Some Counterfactual Thinking

Election Day is one week away. Can you believe it? On the menu today: contemplating what would be different, and what would be the same, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired in 2013 instead of staying on the Court until her death earlier this year; a couple of flubbed words on the campaign trail; yes, people really ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Whose Seat?

Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. And I think there are two little things to say about it. The first is that we very likely have in Barrett the true successor to Antonin Scalia on the Court. Barrett clerked for Scalia and her articulation of his philosophy is probably the most faithful on the court. Justices ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Whose Seat?

Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. And I think there are two little things to say about it. The first is that we very likely have in Barrett the true successor to Antonin Scalia on the Court. Barrett clerked for Scalia and her articulation of his philosophy is probably the most faithful on the court. Justices ... Read More