Great Britain's largest teacher unions have declared a strike for Thursday over proposed changes to their pensions, and they'll be joined by another 700,000 other workers from the public sector. The strike will likely close a majority of the schools all across the country, even though negotiations with unions over the changes are far from over. A friend of mine who lives outside London reports that although not all of the teachers in her daughter's school are members of the two striking unions, the school will close "for safety reasons."
Commentators in the UK see this as a possible boon for the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition's attempts to reform the delivery of education dramatically. Austerity measures to balance the budget may not have left the public at large with much sympathy for workers whose jobs are largely protected and who receive comparatively lavish pensions. Certainly parents are unlikely to appreciate their kids missing out on a day of instruction.
? Chris Tessone
South Carolina is in hot water with the Education Department over the state's failure to meet federal maintenance of effort requirements for special education spending. ED is threatening to dock South Carolina $111 million in federal aid after rejecting a waiver request. The Palmetto State has cut SPED support for three years running due to budgetary pressure.
Federal mandates are coming under attack across the board, often for good reason. Idaho has announced it will refuse to comply with NCLB ? not ask for a waiver ? while the Council of Chief State School Officers is planning to blitz Arne Duncan with waiver requests. In South Carolina's case, however, lawmakers felt they couldn't continue to privilege special education students over every other recipient of state dollars. The state could, of course, have made its case more compelling by matching spending cuts with an agenda of effectiveness in education services, possibly?following Massachusetts' example of outsourcing services to more cost-conscious providers.
The federal response ? that states should allow special education spending to balloon in a time of fiscal austerity when everyone else in the school system is pressured to be more efficient ? is senseless. Washington's mindless maintenance of effort rules simply distort local budgets in favor of certain groups of students, regardless of local needs or resource constraints. As a result, ED is inserting its own judgment into the South Carolina budget process, which it has no business doing.
If you live in New York City, a quarter of the money ostensibly spent on your child's education goes to fringe benefits and pension costs, according to the New York Post:
Why have costs continued to skyrocket while performance lags?
A major cause is pensions. New York City doled out $4,822 for each child in its public schools on fringe and retiree benefits for teachers and other education employees in 2008-09 (the latest available) ? a whopping 27% of the total spent per kid.
That's more than twice the $1,493 cost of health care and pensions per kid in the 1999-2000 school year, and double the 13.4% of $11,121 in per-pupil spending back then, data by the Independent Budget Office show. ?Unlike the increases in salaries and staffing, this isn't something that was planned or desired,? said Charles Brecher, research director for the Citizens Budget Commission. ?It's proven to be very difficult to manage and control.?
New York's retirement system for teachers mandates 8% returns and taps taxpayers whenever the market fails to deliver. This puts kids on the hook for market risk instead of workers; if the retirement plan's investments don't perform well, more resources get sliced out of classroom budgets. Teachers, meanwhile, pay only 3% of their salaries for that risk-free 8% return.
Practically every other profession is able to attract high-quality workers without Ponzi-scheme retirement benefits, yet traditionalists decry any attempt to reform teacher pensions on the basis that it will
Pennsylvania is trying to fix a thorny problem with virtual schools. If two kids attend a virtual school, one from a high spending district that sends along $10,000 in their backpack to the virtual school, and another from low spending district that sends $6,000, the former child's district is subsidizing the latter's education. It's a tough issue.
The solution proposed on Monday by Rep. James Roebuck (D-Phila.) is extreme, however. He proposes that the state pay the entire bill for virtual-school students, as well as youngsters in traditional charter schools, leaving more resources to educate fewer kids in district schools. Since there's on a finite amount of money available for public education in the state, this short-changes children who attend schools of choice.?The proposal also defeats one of the purposes of school choice: competition for students and the resources to educate them.
Virtual schools present some unique governance and school-finance challenges, but rewarding districts for failing to serve kids effectively is not a good solution. Instead, Pennsylvania legislators should develop a financing system where the state steps in to correct disparities but still allows as much local funding as possible to follow a child wherever he or she goes in the education system. Pennsylvania's citizens are taxed to provide resources for all children in public schools, not to preserve buildings and jobs in the traditional system of district schools.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.