Saturday, January 15, 2005

Old Stuff -- Union Cookies?

SchoolHouse Rant

One of the phenomena linking public school education with politics is the annual fundraising campaign. It is a scientific fact that parents fall for marketing ploys somehow linked with sending money to the local school system. This activity would be bearable if it was limited to the commercial sector because you can't blame someone for trying to make a buck.

But the scam has taken on an air of respectability with slogans like "Apples for the Kids," and close association with "your neighborhood grocer." How can we resist? Such campaigns depend on the little-red-one-room-schoolhouse image of modern day primary education rather than that of the hulking bureaucratic behemoth these institutions have become. This practice of phony fundraising has sunk to a new low in recent years as the local schools have glommed on to the Apples-for-Kids marketing strategy; with teachers sending their little money makers home with fundraising packets. While I refuse to acknowledge this practice, my wife, despite my plain disgust and attempts to reason with her, continues to abet.

Now, there is no one bigger when it comes to supporting noble fundraising campaigns. We buy Girl Scout Cookies, popcorn from the Boy Scouts, Easter Seals, etc. What is the difference? I am actually asked this question, by educated, thinking people no less. And it is mainly for those people that I write these columns. For the answer to this mystery one need only turn to the power of the Internet. Find a searchable state or federal government publications page and type in Girl Scouts. Without ever having done this I can tell you that your query will turn up zero matches. Try "school" and you could spend the next few weekends pouring through the material.

"Scam" is pretty strong word. But appropriate if the sense here is that one is fooling or intentionally misleading another for the sake of taking his money. And this is what is happening. We are lead to believe that the local school system (in Severna Park?) is undernourished and the "kids" who are busy playing with Republican guns, are suffering the consequences of dilapidated schools and school equipment. Surely we can take time out of our busy day to sell each other something and turn the money over to the school, for the kids. Why don't we just give the kid an envelope full of cash every month, that way we cut out the "selling" part of pretending that we are getting something we need or desire in return for our money.

Wait a minute, why doesn't the local school district simply register as charity case? Given the current state of the tax code this would provide a true incentive for sending that check. This way, the scam disappears and money starts rolling in because there is a tangible benefit in return for the donation. Surely the good folk of Severna Park can recognize a tax shelter when they see it. But alas, the school district is a government operation financed by property taxes.


At this point one has to start asking questions. If the school district is under funded, inadequately appointed and equipped, why don't we just raise taxes? Now we are talking selling. Why is this such a very hard thing to sell? Surely people can see the benefit of devoting more resources to the public school system? Let's just say they're skeptical. Have the current or past resources been squandered? Have we not been getting good results from past tax increases? Perhaps.

But what really bothers me about it is that a large percentage of the current funding is devoted to teachers salaries and a percentage of those salaries are siphoned off to finance the local teachers unions which all contribute to national teachers union, which devote a percentage of that money to financing the campaigns of such worthies as Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Now, buying into the apples for kids scam run by your neighborhood school means that currently allotted resources don't have to be managed effectively for the benefit of the kids. They can managed effectively for the benefit of the teachers, the NEA and the DNC. The computers, the soccer balls, the uniforms, the field trips, the lab equipment will be paid for by, well by the same people who have paid for everything else. The best part is that the teachers unions and Al Gore can simply blame people like me for not going along to get along; for depriving the kids.

But Mike, aren't you politicizing the "issue"? Aren't you just using politics as an excuse for being tight fisted? And, if you are a conservative, and conservatives are generally opposed to raising taxes, how do you propose to remedy the "situation"? Well, if the unions are a necessary component of the school system then let them stay and let's see some effective education in exchange for their contracts. We don't need computers, field trips and marching bands. What we do need are teachers who can teach and administrators who can manage resources for educational purposes.

This is a pipe dream, however. There simply is no incentive. Accountability and government employees' unions are immiscible. And they are like a cancer, unfortunately. You can't just ask them to leave. You have to remove the entire infected organ. Or, you can introduce an agent, a catalyst that will transform the teachers union into a simple collective bargaining unit rather than a tool of the national labor movement and the Democratic Party. The agent must be able to cure current infestations as well as deter future ones.

Yes, I'm talking about school choice and vouchers. Every time my son shows me home work with questionable, poorly conceived, or grammatically incorrect text and every time these flaws are passed off with a well, we talked about this in class and the kids should know what it means, I become more resolved.

And make no mistake. I am talking about taking money away from the public school system. For the cost of every voucher disbursed should be deducted from the public school budget. A law like this will get results faster than Prohibition and it's repeal. As soon as the unions have emptied their political coffers on lawsuits and losing political campaigns, on what will there be left to spend their time and dwindling dues? Survival will necessarily mean competition. Perhaps they'll raise the standards for teachers and textbooks. It'll happen within one fiscal year or one national election cycle, which ever comes first.

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