Don’t believe the rhetoric
Budget cuts to education and limitation of collective bargaining rights to public employees, namely teachers, will ultimately kill education and send students into the trash bin. Those of you that believe this liberal rhetoric against the Budget Repair Bill, I have some news for you. It has been three months since the budget passed the state legislature and we are already beginning to see positive and tangible benefits that disprove such rhetoric.
According to a report written by the MacIver Institute, 93 Wisconsin school districts (out of 426 total) have renewed or modified their contracts since the beginning of this year; and, in at least 13 of them, contract language provided means to switch healthcare plans to new providers or low cost plans. When these 13 district plans were crosschecked for their provider, nine of them were carried by WEA Trust (Wisconsin Education Association Council’s own healthcare plan). As a result of switching away from WEA Trust, these school districts reported substantial savings. For example, approximately $660,000 was saved in Baraboo School District, over $535,000 in Hartford; $3.1 million saved in Appleton Area School District, Kimberly School District eliminated $821,000 in costs just by dropping WEA Trust for lower cost alternatives. Hypothetically, if all 426 school districts saved a modest $600,000, the education system would save $255,600,000 in health care costs.
According to a Post Crescent article, Kaukauna’s school district is also seeing the results of the budget repair bill. As a result of having employees contribute 5.8% to the state pension system and 12.6% to their health insurance, Kaukauna School Board President Todd Arnoldussen said, “These impacts will allow the district to hire additional teachers and reduce projected class sizes. In addition, time will be available for staff to identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences.”
An article in the Wauwatosa Patch indicated no programs will be cut in the Wauwatosa School District and no significant increase in class sizes is expected. With new contract agreements – including one year pay freeze for teachers and two for custodians and secretaries – the tax burden is expected to decrease.
Based on a preliminary estimate performed on local reports done by the MacIver Institute, local school districts would save $451,076,536.32 (not including money saved from change in health care providers) if every district uniformly enacted the new contracts requiring personal contributions to healthcare and retirement benefits (12.6% to healthcare and 5.8% to pension). Some projected savings in school districts include: Eau Claire, $3,500,000; Madison, $15,500,000; Green Bay, $11,000,000. On average, newly negotiated contracts will save its school districts $517.12 per student.
Why are these local school districts paying so much in health care costs in the first place? Collective bargaining law provided the means for Wisconsin Education Association Council to mandate local school districts to buy from WEAC’s own health care – WEA Trust. What could possibly happen when there is only a single provider for a service such as health care? Certainly the price would decrease based on the good will and intentions of the teachers’ union, right? After all, WEAC says its teachers are fighting to protect the students! The money saved from switching to low-cost health care providers can be used in other capacities to directly benefit students such as healthier lunch programs, improved textbooks or additional tutoring programs. Is it not reasonable to ask caring teachers to make a shared sacrifice to benefit students that they claim to protect so much?
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate and respect educators who build society’s human capital, but there are some who have utilized the collective bargaining law as a means to keep a good salary instead of performing at full capacity. Collective bargaining often requires several years of documentation and costly attorney fees to fire a bad teacher. With the new reform, educators are not protected by an official tenure. As a result, underperforming educators can be held more accountable. This opens up the field of competition and draws the best and most passionate teachers into education. The only thing in the way of passion-driven quality education is collective bargaining agreements, which are now limited in the new law.
I believe it is reasonable to ask public employees to pay for a fraction of their benefits, just as every other tax paying American does. As I mentioned previously, the money saved here can be used for more direct benefits without putting a burden on the tax payer. The money saved from switching to low-cost health insurance and requiring school employees to pay a fraction of their benefits overcompensates for the cuts to education. Next time you hear liberal rhetoric arguing that the Budget Repair Bill will destroy education; think twice before you join in with it.