More bad news for privileged public employee teachers.
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But the Medicaid creep (along with the fact that Baby Boomers who aren’t teachers are more concerned with staving off healthcare costs than with expanding school bureaucracies) may force even stronger measures. Start with reducing the size of the teacher workforce. At least 34 percent of the nation’s 3.2 million teachers are dedicated to courses such as music and shop classes, subjects that are neither as important as reading, math, science or foreign languages, often end up being used by principals to warehouse laggard teachers, and are likely better taught by experienced professionals and retirees. State budget cuts could force districts to reduce those headcounts and embrace the kind of outsourcing that has been a mainstay in the private sector.
For the NEA and AFT, who have long-benefited from annual increases in school spending, the Medicaid crunch looms as another threat to their declining influence over education policy. The unions can no longer keep the grand bargain they struck decades ago with rank-and-file workers to continually keep districts and states under their thumb, make teaching a more comfortable profession, and insulate teachers from economic reality. This state of affairs isn’t displeasing to younger, reform-minded teachers (who now make up the majority of rank-and-file members, are more than happy to ditch defined-benefit pensions and traditional pay scales, and support getting rid of laggard teachers). But the Baby Boomers who still control union decision-making will be none too pleased.
At the same time, the Medicaid crunch may prove as much a challenge for what has generally been a bipartisan school reform movement as it does an opportunity.
Centrist and liberal Democrat reformers, already bristling at efforts by their conservative and Republican counterparts to abolish collective bargaining privileges, aren’t ready to talk about reducing teacher headcounts. After all, they are mindful of the fact that the NEA and AFT are still the biggest financiers of political campaigns within Democratic Party politics (even as the relationship is more of a marriage of convenience than of mutual benefit). They also know that the efforts by the unions to co-opt progressive activists on ballot initiatives and gubernatorial recalls may extend to primary challenges against reform-minded Democrats already in office; together, the unions and progressives may accuse those politicians of being anti-teacher and too cozy with Republican reformers who regard school and government healthcare bureaucracies with equal disdain.
Either way, Medicaid will prove to be as vexing for those who defend faltering traditional public school bureaucracies as it is for state budget directors and taxpayers who deal with both.
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