Thursday, January 20, 2005
IN MY OPINION (Column)
They Protest Too Much
By RAY HAYNES
(The writer represents the 66th Assembly District, which includes portions of western Riverside County and northern San Diego County. He is also the Senate Republican whip.)
The most interesting proposals in last week’s state of the State speech by Governor Schwarzenegger were the merit pay for teachers and the idea for changing how public employee pensions are handled. Both ideas have raised the ire of the public employee unions, and neither is likely to move very far in the California Legislature.
Merit pay for teachers is a very simple idea. Our school system should reward the good teachers. Currently state law mandates that each school district adopt a “single salary schedule,” and that pay increases can only be granted on the basis of education and length of service. That means that every teacher, no matter how good or how bad, gets a raise by hanging around a school district and taking a few classes at college, even if none of their students ever learn a thing.
There is no reason why the state has to have a law dictating how a school district determines the salary of its teachers in the first place. The Schwarzenegger proposal is simply to give an extra financial reward for doing a good job. His idea doesn’t even require the removal of a bad teacher, he just says pay the good ones more than the bad ones.
The teacher’s union is howling mad at that proposal. Why? Because they know that in order to reward a good teacher, the school district is going to have to test students to see how much the students have learned. If a school district can use test scores to reward the good teachers, that district will also have the information to determine the bad teachers. Good teachers don’t need a union’s help to get and keep their jobs. Bad teachers do. Good teachers won’t see a need for the union, and that is what has got the unions worried.
Schwarzenegger’s proposal for merit pay will help good teachers, improve student learning, and restore parent’s confidence in the schools. It will also undercut the power of the unions in schools, which is exactly why the unions, and their Democrat hirelings in the Legislature, won’t enact the proposals.
His second proposal-basically to give every state employee a 401(k) retirement plan funded by the state is also drawing the unions’ fire. Today, California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) Board and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) Board control the retirements of the teachers and public employees, and the unions control the boards. CalPERS has over $180 billion in assets, and is one of the largest institutional investors in the world. There are recent revelations that CalPERS has awarded multi-million dollar contracts of questionable value to donors connected politically to Democrats and has used its power in the stock market to press a union agenda on Wall Street. In addition, bad investments decisions by CalPERS has cost the state billions in pension payments, and nearly bankrupted the system.
If individual employees controlled their own pension plan, three bad things (from the union’s perspective) would occur. First, the union couldn’t use CalPERS to influence Wall Street, severely diminishing the political power of the unions. Second, the employee would no longer need the union to protect his or her retirement, making state and local employees less dependent on the union leaders. Finally, the employee would be able to keep the money he or she invested in the pension upon the employee’s death, making the employee’s families wealthier. The wealthier a family is, the more they dislike union leaders.
In both proposals, taxpayers, students, teachers and state employees would be better off. Union leaders would be worse off, in that they would lose power, control and wealth. Look for these leaders to fight Governor Schwarzenegger to the death, no matter how bad it is for their members.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company