One of the great ironies of our time was splashed across the front page of my local newspaper the other day in the form of the following headline; “SC focuses on funding teacher recruitment efforts.”
As Robin once said during the Batman TV series back in the 60’s, “Holy Smokes Batman”, because that’s what that headline represented; a complete smokescreen camouflaging the fact that Haley has presided over the dismantling of public educator jobs during the entirety of her term. With State Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais playing Robin to Haley’s Batman, a total of 4,000 teacher positions were to be wiped out. That’s probably an accurate figure considering the legislature had cut hundreds of millions from the education budget.
Of course favored monster corporations retained a goodly portion of sales tax exemptions totaling a billion dollars and when Boeing fled the Washington state International Association of Machinists and Aerospace union (IAM) to come to the low-wage nirvana of North Charleston, somehow the money was found for a $900 million incentive kitty awaiting their poaching in exchange for jobs paying far less than union wages. A recent IAM organizing attempt in the North Charleston assembly facility fell on deaf ears. South Carolina workers are terrified for their jobs.
To make things worse for education, absent some kind of bi-partisan agreement, the Committee for Education Funding, with an Executive Board made up of some of the nation’s top public education leaders has compiled some very disturbing facts. Sequestration threatens to cut fiscal year 2013 Department of Education programs by $4.1 billion; Head Start, another $725 million, both records. For fiscal years 2014-2022 additional cuts will rip the guts out of U.S. educational efforts. Pell grants will be included in the massacre.
Nationwide, teaching positions have represented well over half of those jobs lost in the public sector. The national employment numbers for teachers feel by 7.2% between 2007-2008 and 2010-2011. Do I detect a pattern here? Of course, there was always the relief of the American Jobs Act. Objective professional economic experts predicted AJA would have added anywhere from 1.9 to 2.6 million jobs, not only in the education sector, but also for firemen, police and other public sector workers involved in infrastructure improvements and assorted other projects. The Republicans blocked the legislation insisting trickle down was the answer.
We’re not even counting those teachers who flee the profession for the greener grass of the private sector where each new year won’t bring the specter of budget cuts (education is always first in line) and the politicizing of an educator’s every move.
The story behind the local headline I referenced at the beginning of this article was in reaction to a South Carolina education oversight panel that recommended “legislators spend more on programs designed to draw high school students into teaching and fill slots in the state’s neediest schools.” It seems the state colleges are graduating 2,000 education majors annually, when the need is 4,000. Where have I heard that number before?
There are a couple of active teacher unions in the state and neither have any power whatsoever. They can’t collectively bargain or anything else meaningful to working teachers. They’ve got some fighters but they’re handcuffed by anti-union statutes everywhere they turn. Regurgitating the party line, union-hating types say unions will never fly in the Palmetto state because they serve only to protect indifferent and incompetent teachers.
Are there bad union tenure-protected apples in schools? Of course, just as Jimmy Swaggart chased whores, Bernie Madoff stole billions and politicians from both parties have repeatedly stepped down in disgrace. But the Harvard Educational Review conducted a detailed statistical study comparing the effectiveness of union and non-union teachers. The union crowd drubbed the opposition. Attending high school in a union state raised your SAT score by 50 points. Southern states poor academic performance was tracked almost entirely to lack of unions. The study reasoned that union states did better because of, and I’m directly quoting the study here; “better working conditions, greater worker autonomy, security and dignity; improved administration, better training of teachers and great levels of faculty professionalism.
So if the education grads are really that smart, they’ll pack up and set off for states with strong teacher unions. More money, better benefits and an all-around better teaching environment. Interestingly enough, when I lived in Ohio, recruiters would journey down south and pick off the best and the brightest of education grads. Maybe the fact that union-friendly Ohio paid $10,000 more per year than South Carolina had some of the best and brightest heading to Yankee country. Last year Ohio voters batted back a draconian law severely limiting collective bargaining rights. That will make the state even more attractive to college grads in all disciplines.
If you’re still wondering why there are continuing attacks on public schools and their unions, here is your answer. PoliticusUSA has covered this territory before, but the 2012 state legislative, gubernatorial and House of Representative’s votes prove there is still much work to be done. There are two elements involved for the elected radicals of the right driven by American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation. One is the pure lust for money in the private sector. Pay teachers and administrators less, spend less on materials and technology than the public sector and fatten up the bank accounts of corporations operating private schools at the expense of children. There are plenty of teachers out there who will work relatively cheap since livable union wages are quickly becoming a thing of the past, especially in red RTW states.
Another reason for the fiscal attack on public schools that is little publicized is that private schools are much less subject to tests and regulations and much more accepting of the nutbag curriculum of the sanitized version of history making it appear that anything progressive is the devil’s workshop; speaking of which, many so-called secular private schools will manage to sneak in weekday Sunday school not to mention the serious instruction in such wackadoo subject matter as Creationism, Intelligent Design and some form of climate denial in science classes.
Those are the goals and lazy and uninformed Republican voters have let corporate-run ALEC and tea party extremists get away with pushing them on the state level and in the House of Representatives.
I can’t say this enough; start looking for Democratic candidates now for congressional and state races and show up at the polls. If we let this current crop of gullible, low-information Republican voters continue to grow unabated, women, teachers, workers, minorities and gays can kiss their prospects for fair and equitable treatment goodbye.