By Seth Grossman, Political Columnist
December 31, 2005
We pay more taxes than ever for our public schools today, but we have little to show for it.?? Our kids are not? learning the basic academic skills? they need to succeed in life and compete with the rest of the world.
That’s because our public schools today are despotic aristocracies, accountable to nobody.? The elites who run them enjoy salaries, health benefits, and pension plans few of us can hope to get.?? They force us to pay high school taxes, but we have no say in making the most important decisions concerning our public schools.
We American citizens in New Jersey today are free to control fewer and fewer things in our lives? today.??? We can still? control the price and quality of the coffee? we drink.? The government still lets us choose between coffee at Starbucks for a high price, Wawa for a low price, or dozens of restaurants and diners.?? They all compete for our business, and give us endless choices in price, quality, taste, location,? and days and hours of operation.?? As our needs, tastes, and incomes change,? so do the selections offered? to us.?? The businesses that give us what we want? do well, and those that don?t fail.? We have plenty? of good quality, affordable coffee in New Jersey.
Not so with our public schools.?? Every town has one or more school districts, and families who want to get something for the roughly $4,000 a year they pay in school taxes to? pay for school, must send? their kids to the public school in their assigned district. If the district has bad schools, or if particular teachers or classes are not helping students, the parents must leave their kids in that school anyway, or pay double for their education.?? Expensive school taxes for the schools they don?t use, plus expensive tuition for the private schools they do.?? Or the families can move? to a different town with better public? schools.?? Most? parents send their kids to the public schools in their districts because they can?t afford the alternative.
Besides money from property taxes, New Jersey public schools also get hundreds? of millions of? dollars? through state and federal taxes.?? Most of this money goes to a handful of districts under complicated rules that make little sense.?? Usually, districts with the worst? schools? and most political clout get most of the? money.?? When hundreds of families left bad public schools of Pleasantville to go to better schools in Egg Harbor? Township in Atlantic County,? Pleasantville ended up more federal and state money per student, and Egg Harbor Township ended? up with lots? less.
All public schools in New Jersey force their employees, from teachers to bus drivers,? to join a particular labor union called the NJEA.? (An employee may opt out, but must still pay 85% of the regular dues? to NJEA as a ?representation fee?).? NJEA has roughly 105,000 active and retired members in New? Jersey, and a yearly budget of? roughly $80 million.?? Much of that money pays for political campaigns.?? The NJEA has more political power than any other business or group in New Jersey.?? NJEA members also use NJEA resources and expertise to control local school boards.? NJEA members or spouses of members are on almost every school board in News Jersey.?? In many towns, like Egg Harbor City in Atlantic County,? a majority of school board members are NJEA members or married to NJEA members.?? In 2004, one third of the delegates of the Democratic National Convention were members? of? public school employee unions.
During the past 30 years, the NJEA has increased its political clout by forming alliances with other organizations, such as the police? and firefighter unions, and the building trades construction worker unions.?? NJEA supports expensive early retirement plans for police and firefighters, and rules that allow only union companies to build and repair public buildings.??? In return, the police, firefighter, and construction worker unions always support the demands of the NJEA.
Because of the great power of NJEA and other public school employee unions around the country,? the laws and rules that run the pubic schools are incredibly complicated, expensive, and bad for education.?? Here are some examples.
Public school employees in New Jersey get tenure after three years.??? Once they get? tenure, they cannot be fired for? poor or mediocre performance.?? Public school teachers get automatic ?step? or ?longevity? pay increases every one or two years, regardless of performance, and without any increase in responsibilities.? This is? in addition to yearly ?cost of living? increases.?? These ?cost of living? increases alone (not counting? ?step? increases) are usually twice the rate of inflation.??? Public school teachers are paid to supplement their education with graduate courses.? When they complete those? courses, they get another? pay increase, even if the graduate courses have nothing to do? with the classes taught by the teacher.? (That?s why two kindergarten teachers in Ocean City are paid $93,000 for a ten month year.)?? Teachers are also? paid extra ?stipends? of? several thousand dollars a year to coach clubs? or sports.? They get summer,? Christmas, and Easter? vacations,? numerous holidays, and generous sick and personal days off.?? They also get expensive medical plans with minimal co-pays, and generous pensions that can provide more than half their highest pay by age 60.??? Most teachers qualify for free lifetime medical care after retirement.
The number of public school? employees has exploded during the past 30 years.?? Federal legislation in 1971 (IDEA-Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act) compels every public school to provide ?special? education for children with ?disabilities???? However, Congress never defined ?special? education or ?disabilities? or said what programs were required.?? Congress did require? taxpayers to pay for all of the lawyers and experts involved for both sides, in the endless lawsuits needed to find out.??? One of these lawsuits caused one school district to install a $400,000 elevator for one student, even though the student could have gotten to the classroom by using a different entrance.??? One student got to be valedictorian by taking easier? classes because of ?chronic fatigue? syndrome?, and then sued to be the only speaker at graduation.?? It? costs school districts thousands? of dollars and many months to legally remove most violent and disruptive students? from classrooms.? When violent and disruptive students are removed from? a classroom, the school district must often spend $20,000 to $40,000 per year on an ?IEP (Individual Education Plan) for? that? student.? Many school? districts just give? up, and leave violent and disruptive students in the regular? classrooms.)
If the Federal disabilities legislation is so bad for education, you would think NJEA would use its? political power to repeal the law.? But that never happened.??? NJEA would rather collect dues from the thousands of additional teachers and teachers? aides needed to manage violent and disruptive kids in the classroom.
With so many resources devoted to paying high teacher salaries and benefits, and complying with the complicated disabilities laws and? lawsuits, schools don?t have much time to teach the rest of the students important reading, writing, math and critical thinking skills.??? And because our public schools have become so political we cannot teach American history and culture to our children for fear of offending someone.
The New Jersey motto is Liberty and Prosperity.???? It is clear that there is no liberty in our public schools today.??? We pay our high taxes, send? our children to the schools we are? told to send them to, and we have no as to how those schools are run.?? Does it surprise you that we are paying so much more? for such a bad product?
What would the New Jersey patriots of 1776 do if they were alive today??? We think they would give? us the same freedom to choose our child?s education,? as to choose our coffee.??? If a family chooses to send? their children to a private school,? why not let that? family apply their school tax money towards tuition at that private? school??? If a family wants to send their children to a school in a different public school district, and that district has openings, why not let the school tax money from the child?s district pay the school tuition in the other district????? If? the state and federal government pay extra money to? poor school? districts, why not allocate that money to each disadvantaged student, and? let? the parents of each student choose the right school for? their child, and let the child’s share of that money go? to that school?? Why not give liberty a chance?