Over the past several days, the fur has been flying in Wisconsin over Governor Walker’s plan to modify state workers’ benefit contributions as part of his budget fix package. Unionists object strongly to his suspension of collective bargaining rights, and as a libertarian, I agree with them on that one point – up to a point.
But if you are going to make the argument that a state law cannot deny someone their right to bargain collectively, then you must also concede the other half of the constitutional right to association – which is the right to work free of union impairment. State workers, including our teachers, do not recognize this reciprocal right, and therefore, lose a lot of support that would otherwise flow their way.
Wisconsin teachers are missing a golden opportunity here to reform a public education system that has been severely degraded by forced unionization and the seizing of control away from local authorities to the State Department of Public Instruction. I can’t seem to pry an alternative to the Governor’s plan from my teacher friends, so here you go, teachers – let me give you a libertarian alternative to chew on.
First of all, decertify your state-wide union, WEAC, drop out of NEA, and then decide locally what type of collective representation, if any, you will choose for yourselves. Private sector unions organize plant by plant, so maybe schools, maybe districts, maybe even subjects, like the trades do. Open-shop, with teachers voluntarily paying dues to their unions, and participating as at-will members of a collective bargaining unit or not, as each individual person decides. If you have a good reason to join, then persuade folks, don’t force it on them.
Local school boards should nullify all state and federal mandates and run their districts as they see fit. With a conservative governor and legislature and bunch of buzzed up tea-partiers raising heck, there will never be a more favorable time than right now to end the state funding formula and return to local funding and local control of schools. The elimination of the state-level bureaucracy and the cost of local compliance with state mandates will provide more funding for teachers’ compensation, if local districts see the need. And teachers can teach – wouldn’t that be refreshing. What’s that? Obama won’t stand for it? Hey – he’s your guy, handle it.
Is there anyone in the world more keenly interested in the quality of education provided to the kids in each classroom their parents, their principal, and the teacher? Then why in the world did we ever turn that classroom over to a bureaucrat in Madison or Washington D.C. that has never, and will never, met a single one of those kids? Take it back – take back the money, take back the control, take back the responsibility. I have a cousin who teaches and a cousin who works at the Federal Department of Education. The former doesn’t need the latter.
How much money do we need for education? $8,000 a kid, 30 to a class, that’s $240,000. Give the teacher $120,000 and that leaves $120,000 for overhead. If you can’t run a school for that, get out of the business. Do you still hate me, teachers? Has your WEAC leadership ever come close to giving you this kind of opportunity? And you don’t even pay me dues.
Most Wisconsin school districts are within commuting distance of one or more other districts, so competition and choice among neighboring districts will establish something akin to a market for teachers where merit, not seniority or education level, will determine fair compensation. It works for welders, architects, nurses, accountants, engineers, salespeople, IT geeks; don’t think you are so extra special, teachers - I went to school with you.
Teacher’s pay should be set by their customers – the parents – through their elected local school board representatives with input from peers and school administrators. I don’t know if you can convince parents to pay you $120k or not, but you didn’t get anywhere this week by holding a sign and yelling at a building, now did you?
Best practices will soon spread and inequities between districts will not last very long. The best teachers will see their pay and benefits increase, and the worst teachers will be driven out of education into a field more suited to their talents and abilities. Communities with bad schools will not attract young families, and will not achieve economic growth. Communities with good schools will become magnets for families and will prosper. The bad school communities will turn over their school boards and get somebody in there that will make things better and bring families (and property values and tax revenues and trade) back to the community.
The time has come for unbridled school-choice. Parents should have the right to opt-out of the public school systems and select from a range of public or private options or home-school their kids if they want. If we make enough choices available – which a free market will do – then we can hold parents accountable for failing to educate their children. Right now, we hold nobody accountable, and it shows – we have lousy students, lousy teachers, lousy administrators, lousy parents, and lousy bureaucrats in faraway places making a lot of money and making things a lot worse.
Very poorly-run districts will have a hard time finding any teachers willing to work in them, and they will have to pay dearly until they get their situation under control. This will provide the incentive to actually get their situation under control. Go ahead and laugh, Milwaukee – nothing else any of you have tried for the past 50 years has worked. In every other industry, the largest competitors have the lowest cost and the highest quality – in education, it works exactly the opposite. Try it my way.
Finally, tenure has got to go. I know all of the theory about academic freedom, but in practice, it is a license for lazy and lousy teachers to remain that way with impunity. Without the protection of a forced-union monopoly and tenure, bad teachers will either become good or they will leave.
So there you go – a libertarian education reform plan that pays teachers more, educates children better, makes parents accountable for educating their kids, and relies on local control and market forces to improve the education system for everyone – everyone except the union bosses and bureaucrats who add no value.
Or, you can just keep writing nasty comments about the Governor all over the internet. Good luck with that.
“Moment Of Clarity” is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D. Visit Tim’s website www.timnerenz.com to find your moment and order his new book, “Tooth Fairy Government.”