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Entitlements for Teachers

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

On Friday, I received an email from a local public school teacher who is also a Republican.  The objections that she expressed were to me in my role as chairman of the Republican Party in the county where we both live.  Her gemini memberships in the teachers union and the Grand Old Party make for an interesting antithetic.  So, I figured that I would respond to her concerns in the form of a cogitative Townhall article.  Here is the set up:

In 2009, Douglas County, Colorado elected a conservative school board, reflecting its conservative predilection and 2-to-1 Republican over Democratic registration.  The members of this board are parents, thoughtful citizens, and all accomplished professionals.  

These seven citizens quickly made it apparent to everyone that their intentions were far more substantive than having local celebrity status.  In two years’ time, they have reduced spending by over $40 million, replaced the superintendent, crafted a merit pay plan, and implemented a voucher program (challenged in court by the ACLU).

Here is the email that I received, followed by my response:

I am very disheartened by what is going on in the DC school district, particularly the school board.  I am a registered republican and a school teacher in the district and I feel they are hiding behind the republican party to get their agenda of pushing vouchers.  And then they blame it on the union. I am proud to say that our schools are very good schools and have always had a good reputation and have performed well on state tests. However with this republican school board, they have pushed for vouchers for private education.  I can understand this concept if we were a failing school district.  But what it is doing is dismantling the cohesiveness of the schools.  By pushing their voucher agenda, they are portraying to the general public that the public schools are inadequate.  Also, because of this, they are misrepresenting what many of my republican friends believe in, in public education.  I am seriously considering changing my party affiliation from the republican party to the independent party as a result of all this nonsense going on with DC schools.  It's very discouraging as a veteran teacher to see what is happening in our district and I know many of my republican friends feel the same way.  Tax dollars should go for public education, not private education!

Dear Disheartened in Douglas,
Thank you for expressing your views.  As a Republican, I am certain that you identify with most of the party platform.  And as a public school teacher, it is understandable that your views on education would be influenced by the culture in which you work.  What stands out to your fellow Republicans in reading your letter is that, in the entire 220 words, there is not a single mention of concern for what the customer desires.

In most other business transactions, you are a customer.  Let’s take restaurants, for instance.  Would you be satisfied with notion that your personal dining budget is devoted to the public school cafeteria?  That is not to say that cafeteria food is in any way undesirable.  But the choice has been made for you and that is what you get.  That is what everyone gets.  Every day.  Only the wealthy have enough money to spend beyond the taxes they already paid for dining to eat at a private restaurant.

In the case of public education, the primary customers are the parents.  The secondary customers are the students.  And who pays for your salary, your pension, the buildings and the buses?  The voters, of course.  When the voters selected the current school board members, they saw which candidates were endorsed by the union and which candidates were endorsed by the Republican Party.  And the voters overwhelmingly selected these seven board members because they promised to create an education environment that would include competitive choices for parents.

Nearly every resident of Douglas County, including the parents of school aged children, works within the setting of free enterprise.  And nearly every student who passes through the Douglas County School District will work within the free market, not funded by taxes.  Would it not seem fitting that the professionals who are tasked with preparing students to thrive in capitalism should celebrate private enterprise?

The source of your internal struggle is captured in your final statement.  As a Republican, you would normally have an aversion to entitlements.  Yet as a teacher, your personal livelihood is dependent on the ever-reducing funds for public education.  While the emotions are understandable, I would assert to you that there is only one group of people who are entitled to the education tax money provided by the residents; the students themselves.  In a free society, education is the great equalizer for opportunity.  We choose to tax everyone in order to educate the youth.  We do not choose to tax everyone in order to ensure that the government is sufficiently funded to provide instructions to America’s children.

Private construction companies compete for tax dollars to build roads and bridges.  Corporate defense contractors compete for tax dollars to create weapon systems.  Even faith based organizations compete for tax dollars to provide human services.  Government funding does not necessitate government delivery.  I see nothing other than liberal arrogance that would place such authority of the service provider above the service consumer.

In response to your threat of leaving the Republican Party, let me make this appeal.  The union values you for your dues, 70% of which goes directly to the Democratic Party (see my article http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/markbaisley/2012/01/25/unions_bully_model_is_dead).  We value your gifts and talents as you make an enormous difference preparing young Americans to thrive as capitalists in a free society.

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