Parent Trigger Laws And Unionized MPS Teachers: A Reality Check

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Parent Trigger Laws And Unionized MPS Teachers: A Reality Check

CREATED Jun 26, 2012

On television the other day, I came out in support of "parent trigger laws".  These are laws which allow parents of children enrolled in persistently failing public schools to "trigger" a change in the school.  The changes include permitting the parents to fire the teachers and the principal.

Interestingly, these laws are being  pushed by Democrat mayors across the country who are fed up with trying to deal with the educational bureaucracy and unionized teachers.  

In any event, after the show, I received feedback from several unionized public school teachers. Predictably, the responses fell into two categories: (1) the problem with public education is that we don't spend enough money; and (2) how can you hold teachers accountable when they're so grossly underpaid? 

Oh really?

Let's take the Milwaukee Public School System as an example.

First, while there are some individual successes and modest improvement in some areas, it's tough to argue that MPS - as a system- is anything but a failure.  Nevertheless, MPS per-pupil spending is the fourth highest among the 50 largest school districts in the country!

That's right.  Wisconsin taxpayers spend $14,038 per MPS pupil.  That's more per-pupil spending than any other large urban area in the country except for New York City, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

So much for the notion that we aren't spending a ton of money around here.

And so much for the notion that if we just spent more money, things would be better.  Seriously, how much is enough?

And then there's the notion that teachers are grossly underpaid.

After unionized MPS teachers rejected a plan to accept modest pay cuts to help offset health insurance and pension costs (despite a promise by WEAC that Wisconsin teachers would do so), MPS had no choice by to lay off educators.  Talk about eating your young.

In any event, MPS now says it might be able to save some teaching jobs because of cost savings resulting from changing insurance carriers.  These savings reduce the "benefit rate" ( the cost of benefits in relation to each dollar of salary) from 69.3% to 66.2%!

In other words, for every dollar of salary MPS pays out (the average teacher makes north of $56,000 in salary), it also pays an extra $.66 in benefits.  To put this in perspective, the average benefit to salary ratio in this country is about 43%.  MPS is $.23 higher than that - and that is unsustainable. 

I understand that in the distant past, unionized teachers say they passed on pay increases in exchange for increases in benefits.  That's all well and good - but that was then and this is now.  Employees who took smaller pay increases in exchange for additional health insurance 20 years ago have had the benefits of reduced health care costs for years.  Now it's time for a realty check. 

The bottom line is that the time for excuses has passed. The educational bureaucracy is surely not the only reason why children can't read - but it is certainly one of the reasons.

In this regard, "parent trigger laws" seem to be an idea whose time has come.