The current chaos in Wisconsin and elsewhere has illuminated the biggest reason that so many American states are at or near bankruptcy - government unions. As more and more Americans discover exactly how much government workers are raking in with their lavish compensation and benefit packages, they have less and less sympathy for the protesters. Which does not bode well for the future of government unions.
But the chaos has also been a Godsend to one group of government union members: public school teachers. Because in all the furor over the attempts to reign in costs, one of the most important issues facing parents of school age children has been pushed to the background. I'm talking about teacher performance - what parents, and tax payers, are actually getting for all the dollars they spend on "public education."
Well, the headline of an article on cbsnews.com - the CBS news website - says it all:
"Two-Thirds of Wisconsin Public-School 8th Graders Can’t Read Proficiently—Despite Highest Per Pupil Spending in Midwest."
The details are even more embarrassing, showing that:
"...only 32 percent of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a 'proficient' rating." And, that "the reading abilities of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders had not improved at all between 1998 and 2009 despite a significant inflation-adjusted increase in the amount of money Wisconsin public schools spent per pupil each year."
How much money?
"In fiscal 2008, the federal government provided $669.6 million in subsidies to the public schools in Wisconsin." Further, "The $10,791 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in its public elementary and secondary schools in fiscal year 2008 was more than any other state in the Midwest."
Not surprisingly, the situation in public schools across the country is no better:
"Nationwide, only 30 percent of public school eighth graders earned a rating of 'proficient' or better in reading, and the average reading score on the NAEP test was 262 out of 500."
In plain and simple terms, government unions representing teachers are extorting premium pay and benefits for workers who produce results that go from mediocre to downright deplorable (see Detroit). More importantly, if any group of employees in the private sector exhibited the same level of performance that public school teachers do, they would be summarily fired.
But this is precisely what you should expect when government unions are allowed to hold parents and taxpayers hostage to their demands, and there is no mechanism (such as vouchers) that would allow real competition for education dollars.
So, unless and until we get serious about truly reforming the system of public education, including putting the brakes on government unions, nothing will change.
We will continue to pay more, and get less.