(A truly brilliant post worth reading and considering. One of the best overviews of the political background of the education crisis I’ve yet seen. – promoted by Robert Cruickshank)
Note: I am a labor attorney. My wife is a school principal. My mom and mother-in-law are veteran teachers and I was raised on a single teacher’s salary. That is my perspective on this.
There has always been resistance to public education. It was a demand of The Communist Manifesto. And even though it became mainstream in most of the industrialized world, so did universal health care. By way of that example, I mean to suggest it is not something we should take for granted.
But there was no organized political resistance until 1955. No, I’m not trying to write yet another reductionist account of the modern conservative movement that explains everything as a reaction to civil rights (though it does explain a lot). It’s just that’s what we are dealing with now and it’s when a grand strategy was organized. Of course the moneyed interests were always pushing back on certain elements of the New Deal and by 1948 they had achieved a major walk-back of the National Labor Relations Act in the Taft-Hartley amendments. But as much as we have fought back against our capitalist overlords, they aren’t behind this, at least not directly. No, they don’t want to destroy public education-they want to not pay for it and have it produce obedient workers, but they do not want to see it destroyed.
But the Christian right and the Civil Rights resisters (i.e. racists) are. They nearly fomented a rebellion in Little Rock over school integration and launched a political reaction that finally took all of the teeth out of Brown by the early 70s. By then, the Supreme Court had said that busing and tax revenues have to stop at arbitrary district and municipal boundaries drawn by the legislators then in power. This is why 5 years ago we all looked back on the 50th anniversary of Brown wondering what might have been.
But this isn’t an article about civil rights, this is an article about the destruction of teaching as a career and how it fits into that strategy.
In 2009, 30,000 California teachers were laid off. This wasn’t really directly a sinister plot. The dominoes had been stacked years ago, they just needed to be tipped. California school districts have “general funds” and then approximately 50 “categorical” funds that are reserved for special purposes, such as special ed or textbooks. Yet employee salaries-teachers-are paid for out of the general fund, which also must be used to top off categorical mandates that aren’t fully funded by categorical funds. So, when it’s time to cut budgets, legally most of the time the general fund is all that can be cut. And it’s happening again this year. This time, there won’t be as many hired back.
It can’t be topped off without a parcel tax that requires a 66 2/3% vote-that was set up in the 1970s. A regular ad valorem tax on property is capped by Prop 13. By my count exactly three school districts have succeeded in “liberal” California of doing this. Also, this tax is not necessarily enough because some districts (arbitrary lines on a map buttressed by Supreme Court rulings) cover areas where property values are low. You could raise the tax to 5% of the value and it wouldn’t be equivalent to what a 0.1% tax might bring in somewhere else. In order to fix this in the 70s, California (whose courts did not follow the U.S. Supreme Court in drawing the tax lines, but let the legislature get away with doing less than they demanded) began equalizing district funding through Sacramento to the point where almost everything turned into a categorical fund so that legislators could protect whatever they wanted. The textbook company lobbyists made sure that my wife’s district had $2.4m last year for a textbook buy last year that couldn’t go to preventing teacher layoffs.
Then there is the propaganda war. The evil teachers’ unions. The big and powerful teachers’ unions. Yes, yes. How dare the tens of thousands of teachers out there express themselves politically??! In my experience this psychological siege has even sunk into the minds of many teachers who doubt their own union activity. For all the talk about powerful teacher’s unions (maybe the CTA has a lobbyist or two) the actual local teachers unions in dealing with their members’ wages and working conditions are getting rolled all over the state.
And now their power appears to be broken permanently. Why? Because no one graduating today can viably consider teaching a career. Teachers with less than 10 years or so experience either have been laid off ir may be at any time, because that’s how layoffs work, by seniority. The ones with more experience will retire one day, and a cadre of teachers will come and go, many with temporary contracts and little doubt that their job is temporary and with little reason to contribute to or be active in unions. After all, the last generation of teachers (looking back 25 years from now) lost their jobs, never got their wages, etc. I also doubt that the pension system will be what it is now then, either.
Corporate interests want public education that they don’t have to pay for. They also would love to see the entire education sector privatized and paid for through tax revenue-the only way that supposedly anti-socialist entrepreneurs have made any money in the last decade, the way Blackwater made money, the way the banks made their money, the way private prisons have made theirs. Privatized and milked, yes, but not destroyed.
Therefore, we have reached the point where the interests will part between the two sides of the right. The grand strategy to destroy public education by making people hate it achieves a D-Day size victory every year the teachers’ unions are broken-those silly teachers paying money to lobby for actual good education policy while they’re at it! Because there is no one else that wants to make the public schools something worth saving in the public’s eyes. You’ve heard the criticisms. The teachers that can’t be fired for anything. No “God in school.” The assault on science, which both works to antagonize religious parents and the parents of children who want science education. They want to keep pushing it to the tipping point.
Pretty soon, parents start wanting to send their kids to the charter school funded by big corporate money or the private school that teaches that dinosaurs are 5,000 years old. A whole new segregation appears. The grand strategy succeeds.
Big Business has a choice. They can realize that public sector workers are no threat to them since they don’t employ them and they keep the infrastructure running that gives them a country where they can make money and live a big life, or they can watch it burn.
The Democrats in Sacramento and Washington have a choice. They can either figure out that this shit is chess not checkers and devise a grand strategy of their own to provide free lifelong learning to anyone who wants it, so that they can adjust to the global economy and make us all richer, or they can continue to stick their fingers in the dike. Lack of a grand strategy is the symptomatic defect of the left in this country for the last several decades. They simply have no decades-long plan at all. Even the health care bill if it passes only became possible through the dumb luck of the fallout of the Bush catastrophe and not any incremental, patient broad arc since FDR’s time.
The strategic weakness of the enemy at this point in time is that only people whose views are way out of the mainstream will continue to push this, even without teachers’ unions of any consequence in politics. But a noisy minority can do almost anything in this country. Even a weak army will win when not resisted by organized force. A Napoleonic center maneuver is what we need here-to get between the two sides of the right, not the political center, to split them, to get the money power to fight the Christians.
I submit to you that 100 children with 4 teachers in a barn with chalkboards and slates will learn better than 100 children with 2 teachers in a classroom with the latest 3-D textbooks and audiovisual equipment paid for by categorical funds in very fine school buildings paid for by taxes than can pass with only 55% of the vote, but which money cannot be paid to those two missing teachers.