The last time the WI governor called out the National Guard against his own people it lead to the infamous Bay View massacre. Then, as now, the people Governor Walker threatened Friday with National Guard troops aren’t an invading army, but among the hard working citizens of Wisconsin that he is supposed to protect and serve
I’m not a member of any union, indeed I serve on a school board involved in contentious and drawn out negotiations asking for substantial concessions from the teachers in our district. And although it makes this job difficult and frustrating (and I wish for a more collaborative process that could result in better outcomes for both sides) I don’t question for a moment the right of the teachers to associate and as a group negotiate for fair compensation for their labors.
My attitude does not just derive from idealistic notions of our rights as citizens in a country founded for the people, but also from a practical interest in what is best for the education of my children, our state and nation. A comparison of student achievement as ranked by the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows those states without teacher’s unions nearly uniformly rank at the bottom of in terms of student achievement, while those with healthy unions, including Wisconsin, rank at the top. We don’t know all the reasons for this correlation but it is more than a coincidence, I fear the “budget repair bill” will deliver us speedily to the bottom of this list. Yes, a teacher’s union can create impediments to reforms in our schools, but at the same time they create a rewarding work environment that in the long run attracts highly qualified people to the profession.
I do think that the public unions of this state are much to blame for the fact that they enjoy so little public support that their existence hangs in the balance. They have enjoyed considerable power and influence, and yet they have often appeared tone deaf to the greater concerns of the state. Unions need to demonstrate their relevance by working collaboratively for change for the better, and help adapt to (not fight) new realities.
But we all know that these proposed measures gutting union rights have no business in a “budget repair bill”– and the pure ugly political nature of these provisions is revealed by the exemptions given to the police and fire unions. If we wish to debate the nature, status and conditions of public employee unions lets have that discussion on its own merits, not undo 50 years of work in a single week with little debate and less thought.
We all understand the need for austerity measures in the face of an economic downturn. Although one wonders why, when headlines show that corporations are turning their tax breaks into record profits rather than jobs, that austerity means belt tightening primarily for the working families of this state. A healthy, prosperous middle class is the ultimate strength of our state and the hundred thousand teachers, if they are anything like my community, stand at the heart of that class and the guardians that prepare its children for their future.
Yet our Governor refuses to even meet with the representatives of these tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens and public employees, an act that can only be described as dereliction of duty. What is he afraid of? In his refusal the Governor claims that he has nothing to offer the unions – and yet he entirely exempts unions representing other groups from his proposals. Teachers are every bit as important to the state of Wisconsin as police officers and firefighters – don’t they deserve the same rights and respect? The governor says the state is “broke”, but our $3.6 billion shortfall over the next biennium represents much less than 1% of the Wisconsin GDP. According to usgovernmentspending.com education spending (preK-12) as a percentage of GDP has shrunk more than 12% since 2002. If the state IS broke, it is not because of education.
The Governor says he is committed to creating jobs in the state of Wisconsin, I have a news flash for him: employers are not going to come here for the weather, and they will never find the labor costs of India or China. The only thing that will attract employers is a well-educated, creative and productive workforce. That is a race we can win, but we can’t even compete in a race to the bottom, nor should we want to. The teachers of the state must be at the core of our efforts to win the race that Wisconsin needs to run.
We live in the most prosperous country ever known to history- we need to remember that we got here neither by magic nor chance, but in part because our grandparents made the sacrifices necessary to adequately support universal education and allow teaching to become a rewarding and respected profession. When we turn our backs on those values, we turn our backs on prosperity for our children.