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Monday, September 9, 2013

Rick Hess director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute blames retirees pensions and health benefits for the problems in education. (rough draft)

Mr. Hess was on Jeb Bush’s blog Redefined Education having a chat moderated by the ReDefined Ed staff. The toughest question they asked him was, how is your day going?

When answering a question about for profits putting profits first he answered, Well, sure. That's always a concern. Of course, I trust Patricia recognizes that there are plenty of public school districts that fail to put needs of students and parents first. The point is that for-profits are not uniquely culpable, and that they have strengths as well as weaknesses.

I wondered if he could give some examples of school districts not putting kids and parents first and he answered:

Sure, take a look at health care and pension obligations in cities like Detroit or Philadelphia that are starving classrooms in order to make things comfortable for retirees. Look at procurement systems and HR departments that have avoided hard choices, throwing money at mediocre vendors and failing to get serious about evaluating or improving employee performance. These things are difficult and unpleasant, so the status quo is allowed to linger.

Where do I start? Am I wrong or is he saying that giving health care and pensions to teachers who gave a lifetime of service is a poor policy for school districts and that it robs from kids and parents. His dig about procurement systems is a bit of a stretch, yes I think school districts often choose crappy books but they choose them from for profit companies, which Hess was on Redefined Ed to promote. Then he goes into the tired old blame the teacher argument. Are their teachers that have chosen the wrong field? Sure just like there are probably directors of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute too.

I want to go back to what he blamed first and that’s the health benefits and pensions of people who dedicated their lives to children. That’s what we are battling against here, people who have no respect or appreciation for their service. Lets not forget that they often gave up on higher pay for better benefits and a pension too. People like Hess would see teachers have none of them.

I asked a follow up question, I have read the average teacher retiree in Detroit makes 19k a year that hardly seems like we are making them comfortable after a lifetime of service. Philadelphia's problems also seem to come from decades of mismanagement at the state and local level. Those two examples aside, do you think pensions are a problem in education as they divert funds from classrooms?

To which he replied, Yeah, you might want to take another look at the Detroit data. That figure is way off for a retiree who retired with 25 yrs. Look, the point is not that pensions are good or are bad. It's reasonable for people to want the pensions they've been promised, and we all like good benefits. But retirement obligations are carving huge chunks out of K-12 outlays (look at the Pew work on unfunded obligations and what that'll mean for states over the next decade or two). Public systems tend to be bad at resisting these demands, because nobody likes to be a bad guy. For-profits have self-reasons to keep those retirement obligations under control, which has the happy result of ensuring that more funds are going into salary for practicing teachers and into classrooms.

Once again he says where teachers wanting them isn’t unreasonable teacher pensions are the problem. He then added for profits make sure more money goes into salaries which we know to be a total lie as charters and the private schools in strip malls usually pay quite a bit less than public schools do. So yeah, I might need to look up how much Mrs. McGillicutty who taught for 30 years in Detroit is receiving but he needs to look up how much for profit schools are paying their staffs too. Who wants to best I am closer to the truth?

He then went on to praise Jeb Bush and Tony Bennett and I went on to throw up in my mouth a little.

So there you have it friends, the pensions and health benefits of people who dedicated their lives to children are two of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving education. After all they divert money from our classrooms and lets just forget teachers often traded pay for pensions and benefits, that way we will be able to sleep at night as Mrs. McGillicutty eats her cat food and lives in the back room of her daughters house. 

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