When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his GOP cronies in the Legislature strong-armed through a union-busting bill, they touted the effects it would have on the free market. Well, the market has spoken, and it’s not happy. Associate Press reported today that teachers in Wisconsin are retiring at twice the normal rate in response to budget cuts that affect their benefits and ability to collectively bargain.
Though many public sectors in Wisconsin are seeing more retirements than usual, for schools this is especially problematic, as fewer teachers means even larger class sizes. It’s quickly turning into a veritable teacher shortage; the district of Beloit, for example, has seen 10% of their teachers retire, meaning that they have far more vacancies than they can reasonably hope to fill before the year starts.
Perhaps an even bigger problem is that most of the retirements are coming from veteran teachers, who have been in the system for years. Green Bay German teacher Ginny Fleck is quoted by AP as saying, “All of the leadership is gone. Some of these younger people who come in need help from the older teachers and they are gone. Plus, the morale is really down.” Fleck goes on to say that one reason why she considered leaving was the economics: if she was to stay as a teacher, the hit she would take would have been so large that she would have lost $8,000.
This goes far beyond the issue of unions — whether or not one likes them, good teachers are crucial to building our nation’s present and our future. Paul Doro of the Milwaukee Progressive Examiner makes the excellent point that “People who support exorbitant executive pay (often the same people eagerly criticizing teachers) claim that it is necessary to attract top talent. Do they really not realize that this applies to educators as well?”
This rhetorical question is supported by a strong empirical background. The New York Times reported last year that good teachers deserve salaries in excess of 300,000 per year, because that’s how much good for society they create each year. Similarly, the research and consulting outfit McKinsey found that higher teacher pay would mean that more young, talented, recent graduates would be able to bring in enough income to make a career out of teaching. But now, just the opposite is happening.
So basically, all of the research shows that if the market went where it wanted to go, then teachers should be making more money. But conservatives like Walker oppose doing that because of… the market. Ironically, Walker has no qualms using state funds to line his cronies’ pockets, paying private attorneys hundreds of thousands of dollars more than public attorneys for similar work.
This all just goes to show where the Republican priorities are — it’s not about balancing the budget or fixing the deficit, it’s about getting themselves a bigger slice of the pie, no matter the cost to others. Unfortunately, today in Wisconsin those costs became all too apparent. Punishing teachers, though it may reduce costs in the short term, mean that our children are going to have to deal with the consequences — overworked and inexperienced teachers manning stuffed classrooms.
Photo from Fibonacci Blue via flickr.