A story in my local newspaper this week demonstrated the absurdity of some special interest groups – notably, public education unions. Teachers at the California State University system have good pay, excellent health benefits, a great retirement system, and job security far in excess of most anybody in the private or public sector. So, it is disgusting to find out that the CSU faculty union is picketing and has authorized a strike (with 90% member approval) to protest the rescinding of pay raises. These raises were pulled back because of budget cutbacks in California caused partly by the unions. In these days of 16%+ unemployment (including the long term unemployed), with 49 million people below the poverty line and about as many on food stamps, one would think that the union leadership and members would have some sensitivity toward what is happening in the real world.
The public education unions have been a powerful political force in California for years, and the state is worse off because of that. While most teachers presumably care about the children that they teach, the unions certainly do not. They fight against charter schools, home schooling, discipline or firing of bad teachers, and any attempt to rein in the power of the unions and their cronies. About three years ago, I asked a school superintendent about these issues. To his credit, he gave me an honest answer rather than the politically correct one that I was expecting. He stated that the teacher unions and the prison guard union always had a seat at the table of any legislative meeting, meaning they have a lot of power over certain politicians.
Last year, a friend recommended that I read a book called “Plunder”, which goes through the political shenanigans of unions, and how public servants make themselves into public masters. The author noted how, in 2006, only four out of ten students in grades two through eleven were at or above the level of proficiency in language and math. In some school districts like Los Angeles Unified, less than half of students get a high school diploma.
Andrew Biggs and Jason Richwine recently wrote an article in the Wall St. Journal showing evidence that public school teachers are not underpaid. When comparing similar education backgrounds and comparable achievements on objective tests of cognitive ability, salaries are about even, while fringe benefits push teachers well ahead of those in the private sector. States and cities always hesitate to cut teacher pay or benefits because of public perception that teachers are underpaid and because anything that adversely affects teachers’ unions means that they somehow “don’t love the children.”
Now, this is not to show disrespect for teachers in any way. Most of the teachers that my own children have had were quite good. Personally, while I don’t feel that there is a need for any public-sector unions, I could accept having them if they actually had good education as a goal and stayed out of politics. Alas, that is not the case.
If we could get corrupt politics and unions out of education, I have no doubt that our children would enjoy the benefits, and that taxpayers would be getting a better return on their tax dollars. Good teachers would be rewarded and bad teachers would be terminated (Los Angeles succeeded in firing only five teachers over the past decade … out of 33,000). Perhaps a school district cannot be run like a business, but certain business principles would certainly help.
Alan Noblitt is a mortgage note broker residing in California. Although Alan’s company buys mortgage notes too, being a mortgage note broker allows him and his investor partners to buy notes on nearly any type of property and in all 50 states.