In Ohio, at least, a common charge by Democratic candidates is that their Republican opponents would cut spending on education, resulting in the layoff of thousands of teachers. Governor Strickland’s supporters have made such arguments about John Kasich, and similar charges have been made against the Republican candidate for the Ohio House District that includes New Albany. I expect that, at some point, focus group testing indicated that, if you wanted to oppose spending cuts, a safe way to do so was to claim that the cuts would hurt teachers and education.
I wonder whether that perception still holds true. We know that teachers are highly unionized and very active politically. We know that, at least in some areas, teachers receive subsidized health care benefits and pension benefits far beyond what is available to most employees in the private sector. We know that, for the most part, adding more teachers apparently hasn’t resulted in any meaningful improvement in how the children who are the product of public schools perform in science and math. We have heard about incompetent and disinterested teachers, and we’ve read about the so-called “rubber rooms” in New York City where teachers who have been accused of misconduct draw paychecks while doing nothing. (More recently, the bad publicity about the “rubber rooms” has caused the teachers to be assigned to menial clerical work, for which they will nevertheless be paid their full salaries.)
I wonder whether these kinds of stories, coupled with the crushing budget deficits that are looming in Ohio and many other states, have taken a bit of the bloom off the education rose. When significant cuts must be made to bring the state budget into balance, why shouldn’t education and teacher positions be on the table just like every other budget item? And given the oppressive budget reality, is it really advisable to elect candidates who are so beholden to teachers’ unions that they won’t even consider such cuts?