One of the most common rhetorical techniques used by politicians to disguise the true nature of a proposed policy is to give legislation a name implying something totally different. For example, the health reform measure popularly known as Obamacare is officially entitled the Affordable Health Care Reform Act of 2010. It is about government control, not health care; and the results have been anything but affordable.
So it was that the president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association — which is really a teacher union, not an education association — audaciously claimed that: "Using public school students as a political bargaining chip is a bad idea." Mike Crossey was talking about Governor Tom Corbett's plan to dedicate new revenue generated by the privatization of the state's antiquated liquor store system to grants for public education.
The PSEA's suggestion that "using public school students as a political bargaining chip is a bad idea" is the public policy equivalent of a Jedi mind trick. For the cinematically-challenged that means to claim something is other than what is actually standing in front of you. The fact is the PSEA has shown a remarkable willingness to use as a bargaining chip whoever and whatever is necessary to achieve its union power goals.
The PSEA bludgeons local school boards, taxpayers and parents by going out on strike if they don't get what they want in contract negotiations. The degree to which students are held hostage is evidenced by the fact that Pennsylvania perennially leads the nation in the number of teacher strikes. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would support legislation aimed at making teacher strikes in Pennsylvania illegal.
And, students are not the only ones the PSEA will hold hostage to achieve its political goals. The union opposes the right of parents to decide for themselves which public, private or parochial school their child should attend. PSEA wages war against other forms of school choice such as the establishment of charter and cyber charter schools. As a result, hundreds of thousands of students are trapped in failing schools. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would support legislation that empowers parents with full school choice rights.
Not only does the PSEA hold the threat of strikes over the heads of taxpayers, but they force taxpayers to subsidize the collection of union dues via payroll deduction. This adds administrative cost to school district budgets, dollars which could otherwise be dedicated to student education. If Mr. Crossey and the labor union he leads truly were appalled at the thought of using students as bargaining chips, they would collect their own dues rather than have taxpayers foot the bill.
The current instance of PSEA caterwauling about the governor's plan to dedicate new revenue from a privatized liquor system to education further illustrates its commitment to union power over serving students. Their true concern here is not education dollars; it is preservation of the jobs of their union brethren in the state store system. Unions now represent less than 12% of all American households; those are mostly in the public sector. The PSEA's true goal here is to prevent further erosion of union membership and lucrative dues dollars.
Governor Tom Corbett has been subjected to a steady barrage of bashing by the PSEA for so-called cuts to public education. State dollars have, in fact, remained rather constant. The "cuts" have come from federal stimulus dollars that were temporary. So, the real blame for the "cuts" lies on Barack Obama and the federal government, not Tom Corbett and state government. The Corbett liquor privatization plan finds a way to help replace some of those lost dollars.
You would think the PSEA would applaud such a move, but then again you would have to believe that that an organization built on using students as bargaining chips would actually care about their well-being.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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