However, not every good effort to ensure wise use of educational tax dollars was rewarded last week. In Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota, voters lashed out against state policies that forced local school districts to be transparent with how they spend taxpayer dollars and negotiate labor union contracts, and which provided educational technology in public school classrooms. Initiatives like these may seem like good ideas- and objectively they are-but if you’ve got enough money to spend on advertising, you can successfully portray them as evil.
Who, really, wants to argue that educational tax dollars should be spent on things that don’t benefit students? And who, really, wants to argue against government transparency?
Nobody would try to campaign on these points. But if you’re the AFL-CIO and your teacher’s union members are vested in the status quo, then you want nothing to do with transparency in government, and you certainly don’t want your union members to have to adapt to the “change” of using more computers.
So big labor spent millions in advertising dollars demonizing the education reform laws in Idaho, Indiana and South Dakota, while trashing the policy makers that brought them about. Scrutinizing the negotiation of labor union contracts was equated to “hating teachers,” while using online computer technology was characterized as “trading teachers with laptops” - and the costs of the computers were allegedly going to bankrupt the respective states, according to the teachers’ union’s advertisements.
A quick price comparison between an inexpensive laptop computer purchased in bulk (with enough digital space to store several digital textbooks) and a single hardbound text book suggests that school districts could actually save money with more computers. And expanded internet access can allow kids in the most rural of regions to connect with world class educational content from top universities. But neither of these realities mattered. This wasn’t about the kids, it was about the labor unions – and on election night voters in all three states chose the union’s agenda.
Both the expansion of charter schools, and enhancing transparency and technology in traditional schools, are fundamentally economic agendas: both initiatives have to do with a more efficient use of taxpayer money, and spending money for its intended purposes (improving kids’ education).
Yet one agenda was embraced (by both a “red” and “blue” state), and the other was rejected. The charter school movement has become so successful and popular that even the AFL CIO usually can’t stop it (although unions generally hate charter schools because they produce better academic results while spending less money). But scrutinizing - let alone “changing”-conventional public schools is apparently too uncomfortable. So in three relatively “conservative” states, voters chose with education reform like a majority of voters around the country chose for presidential leadership: they opted for “more of the same.”
Let’s hope that government transparency (even for school districts), and a respect for private enterprise, can become acceptable agendas like charter schools – so more Americans will stop choosing “more of the same.”
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.
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