It’s been a little over a year since Wisconsin exploded in response to Governor Walker’s reforms. What are the results? Well, we won’t know for many years. But early returns are
For the first time in decades, school administrations are now actually able to administer their districts without union interference, and the savings have been huge. The MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin think tank, reports that of the 108 school districts that completed contracts with employees, 74 of them, with 319,000 students, have reported savings of no less than $162 million.
The biggest area of savings have been in health insurance. The teachers union insisted that districts use the union’s own health insurance company to provide coverage. No longer forced to use a monopoly provider, districts have either switched providers or used the threat of switching to force the union health insurance company to dramatically lower premiums. Savings have averaged $730,000 in districts that have switched providers or forced competitive bidding.
One of the result of this has been fewer layoffs of teachers. This despite shrinking state aide.
The unions and their supporters will respond that the negative impact will take a long time to be felt when fewer people want to go into teaching. That’s a fair point. But given that they also claimed these reforms would not save much money, I would take that with a grain of salt.
I worry that this debate will miss the important point. The biggest problem with our education system is not that we pay teachers too much, although the pensions and benefits are a big budget issue. The larger problem is that teachers, principals and administrators are hamstrung by red tape and regulation. What’s really needed is more local authority, not top-down solutions. There have been some proposals recently to allow a majority of parents to fire teachers or privatize. While I agree with Neal McCluskey that this is probably a bad idea, I think the philosophy behind it — more accountability, more educational freedom and more local control — is fundamentally sound.