What should be expected from the tenure of Randi Weingarten, newly elected president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teacher union? In her first major address in July and subsequent statements, the former head of the union’s flagship New York City local described an expansive agenda with public schools assuming broader community roles in a deeply-entrenched government education monopoly.
Ms. Weingarten discussed a range of broad new roles for public schools, including high schools that allow students to sign up for morning, afternoon, or evening classes, offer after-school and evening recreational activities and homework assistance, and house community schools and medical clinics. For a school district where two-thirds of the school budget goes toward paying teachers, a plan such as the one she suggested could easily require a 30 percent increase in the size of the operating budget.
Ms. Weingarten also has advocated for expanded government pre-kindergarten programs, reducing class sizes, and broad new investments in technology and instruction materials. She has also lashed out at school vouchers, an innovation program that has been demonstrated to help alleviate these challenges. Her push to increase spending on schools to include health care would in turn put added pressure on solutions. How much money is the federal government willing to spend on increasing an already faulty system without allowing its monopoly consumers new choices?
Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen points out, “Taxpayers, philanthropies, and corporations have spent more then 60 billion to equip schools with computers in the last two decades.” The total taxpayer investment in K-12 public education in the United States is currently over $500 billion, or 4.3 percent of GDP.
Spending money on schools has never been the problem. Federal funding for elementary and secondary education has increased more than 60 percent since 2000. Instead of using that money on teacher and student success, Ms. Weingarten’s plan pushes the educational system from schools to “community centers.” Focusing on areas outside the classroom will not only prove to be costly but have a good chance of cutting funding to academic priorities.
At the end of Ms. Weingarten’s speech she boldly pronounced, “The union is the solution.” Her idea of the union goes farther then the body she represents: it seems to signify unlimited funding for her idea of what the public educational system should be. As to date, increasing the outflow of money has yet to have the effect previously hoped for. So when Ms. Weingarten attacks opponents for “demonizing” teachers, what she is really attacking is the closing of her idea of a blank check for public schools without accountability for results.
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