Friday, May 18, 2001

Watch out, parents, school unions are up to their old tricks.The National Education Association (NEA), Americas largest teachers union, and the smaller American Federation of Teachers yesterday released reports on enrollment, teacher pay and per-pupil spending. To be sure, what the statistics say is important for parents and policy-makers. Whats problematic is that the two unions are separate and cater to different memberships, yet they speak with one voice and their message is always the same: Spend more money or else. Every black parent in America, indeed, every taxpayer in America, and every lawmaker inside and outside Washingtons Beltway needs to ask the NEA and AFT a question: Or else what?
Under different circumstances, wed consider such or-else demands blackmail, a criminal offense. But for some reason, when the big bad NEA and AFT give us an ultimatum, fully cognizant of the fact that our children are suffering academic neglect, we cower and cave in to their demands. Shame on us for not demanding accountability.
Consider this weeks sequence of events. The House and the Senate resumed work on President Bushs education initiative, and by midweek the NEA and AFT and their well-oiled lobbying machines coincidentally released their reports on teachers salaries, enrollment and per-pupil spending. First the NEA and AFT set us up to believe that teachers salaries are too low (the average pay for 10 months work is $42,000). Then the unions said that, if we want to hire more teachers then we need to spend more money by raising starting salaries. And, just in case we didnt fall for their first two bags of tricks, the unions said that if we want to retain teachers then we need to spend still more money.
The average pay raise for new teachers was lower in 1999 than in 1998, the AFT said, and new teachers last year earned an average, $27,989, up 4.2 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, the NEA said that, between 1989 and 2000, average inflation-adjusted salaries rose by less than 1 percent and spending on K-12 education increased, but didnt keep pace with the nations economic growth. Average per-pupil spending rose from $6,627 to $6,906. Of course, per-pupil spending in one school district may be higher or lower and therein lies the rub with the unions across-the-board take on public education spending.
“Its inexcusable,” NEA President Bob Chase said, “that during a decade of unprecedented economic growth in this country, students were left behind. What does that say about the real value we place on education?”
Indeed, what does Big Bad Bob mean by “we?” We the taxpayers have been duped by unions into giving billions upon billions of dollars and in exchange the unions left behind poorly educated children.
Think about it. Here we are, two generations removed from the U.S. Supreme Courts desegregation decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education and black children are right back where we started in segregated and inadequate schools. Back then black parents regardless of income or social standing had no choice. Back then, in May 1954, the fight was against segregation. Today the opposition is the unions, which, sadly, have large black constituencies.
However, neither unions nor the federal government should dictate how we spend school funds in our communities. Indeed, while some localities might need to hire more teachers, others might want to open more charter schools. While some school districts might need new science labs and technology and textbooks, others might want new buildings. The unions cannot possibly offer solutions to improve the educational lot of Americas black children because they are part of the problem.
Besides, spending more money has yet to produce smarter students and every literate taxpaying soul knows that, including the devils who run the NEA and AFT. They know because they ardently oppose using low test scores, high rates of remedial courses for college freshmen, unconscionable unemployment and underemployment rates for young black adults, the flourishing charter school movement and the increasing push for voucher initiatives as measuring sticks for their constituencies. The NEA and the AFT know that too little money is not the problem, which is precisely why they carp about it every chance they get.
More importantly, the NEA and the AFT know that school choice, the centerpiece of the Bush education initiative, is the ultimate accountability tool, and that, after a few initial miscues on Capitol Hill, both houses of Congress are on the verge of slam-dunking the unions attempts to spend more money on what simply has not worked.
Prior to the 1954 desegregation decision, we expected less. In 2001, we find that instead of more we have still less. If we dont shut down the unions now and speak up for whats right, I shudder to think what they have in store for black children 10 years from now.

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