Paul Jacob

But merit pay is consistently fought by the school employee unions. They are a powerful political force at both the local and state level. They know the way to the state capitol.

Power also envisions that moving this mighty tussle to the state level might help lead to a restoration of fiscal sanity on health insurance and pensions costs for school employees. Currently, those run $1,200 a year per pupil. And growing. The Citizens Research Council predicts these costs will escalate to gobble up 1 of every 3 educational dollars within a decade.

Or perhaps there will be more school consolidation? Power wisely wants to reduce duplicative administrative jobs and reminds us that now teachers in Michigan represent less than half the employees of the K-12 school systems.

These seem dandy. Never lose hope. Anything is possible.

Indisputably, Power's idea, which he says former Governor Engler also once advocated, would save precious money on fewer expensive labor negotiations.

Power does not address the fact that this system is precisely the one that economists give the biggest shouts of warning about. They talk about bilateral monopoly and how hard it is to negotiate anything like rational rates when there are only two traders. Without competition, you can't discover the best deals.

Power does recognize a few downsides, though, like "the possibility of one great big statewide teacher strike every few years, anti-strike laws or no."

Shucks. Too bad unions don't have to follow laws.

Power also worries that the public will oppose the single-employer plan because of "our deeply imbedded idea, dating back to pioneer days, of local control of schools."

I'm admittedly an embeddee. Education decisions need to be made as close to home as possible. Not ever further away.

But Phil Power is certainly not the problem. He wants to find a way to reform the educational system against the resistance of the educational establishment.

It's just that his solution and this entire debate are emblematic of the problem. It's all about politics. Unions and employee benefits.

Not kids. Not education.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.