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What Teachers Unions Won't Tell You About School Layoffs

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

The media and education establishment’s hair has been on fire over the thousands of layoffs that are occurring in American public schools. They’ve bought into the union line that school funding is in crisis, when in reality, spending is unsustainable.

Because of collective bargaining agreements, many school districts’ hands are tied and layoffs are the only option. They can’t save money by changing employee health insurance policies, or obtaining salary freezes or wage concessions, because the unions won’t allow it.

This all supposedly leads to what the unions denigrate the most (besides Republicans): larger class sizes.

The Obama education stimulus package accomplished two things: it temporarily maintained artificially large school employment levels and created the layoff “crisis” that school boards are now grappling with. You see, the stimulus lasted for two years and provided money to keep unnecessary staff on the job. But then the money was cut off and schools could no longer afford to keep extra teachers on the payroll.

So school districts are now laying teachers off, some by the thousands. And the layoffs may be justified.

Census figures, first dissected by the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci, show that government school employment rates have been increasing as student enrollment has been decreasing.

“The latest Census Bureau report provides details of the 2008-09 school year, as the nation was in the midst of the recession. That year, 48,238,962 students were enrolled in the U.S. K-12 public education system. That was a decline of 157,114 students from the previous year. They were taught by 3,231,487 teachers (full-time equivalent). That was an increase of 81,426 teachers from the previous year.”

No wonder there’s a “crisis” – so many people and so little work, and a lack of tax dollars to keep everyone employed.

But that’s strange, because, as Antonucci points out, per pupil spending has continued to rise across the nation.

“Per-pupil spending rose 2.6 percent, and spending on employee compensation (salaries and benefits) rose 2.3 percent. The United States average for per-pupil spending was $10,499, with 25 states spending more than $10,000 per student.”

Those facts are such stubborn things. Unions would have us believe that the resources taxpayers invest in education are not sufficient to maintain quality schools. But their arguments must be taken with a grain of salt. If we need fewer teachers, the role and power of teachers unions will suffer. As Detroit Public Schools Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said, “the greatest resistance (to school reform and budget cuts) comes from the guardians of the status quo who still guard the status quo long after the status quo has lost its status.”

Society should be focused on maintaining the necessary number of teachers for today’s student population, instead of keeping a bunch of educators on the public payroll for no particular reason.

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