As Frederick Hess writes about the newest "stimulus" to send money to the states, the Obama administration is really doing a disservice to these states by allowing them to forestall the painful, but necessary cuts that they need to make. Arne Duncan even seems to think that it takes "courage' for federal officials to vote that money to hand out to the states.
Duncan, who singled out for praise the $1.2 billion that EduJobs is funneling to California, also might want to consider the recent Pepperdine study of 52 California school districts. This study reported that spending rose 21.9 percent from 2003–04 to 2008–09, outpacing both state income growth and inflation. On a per-pupil basis, spending actually jumped 25.8 percent over that period, while classroom spending as a share of total outlays declined from 59 percent to 57.8 percent. Where did the money go? Pay rose by 28 percent for certificated supervisors and administrators and by 44 percent for classified supervisors and administrators.When the administration talks up all that it has done for promoting employment, just remember the contrast between those red and purple lines.
Look, no one makes tough choices in flush times. No executive in the public or the private sector is eager to squeeze salaries, shut down inefficient programs, or trim employees when he can avoid it. This is why tough times can be so healthful for organizations. They make possible the occasional pruning. They prod managers to tackle problems that otherwise get swept under the rug. This permits organizations to regain their fighting trim, to reexamine old priorities, and to create a leaner culture focused on productivity and performance.
Even if some state or local leaders are inclined to swing the budget ax, promises of federal funds targeted for “job preservation” make them look like surly killjoys. Even if a superintendent knows that plumping the payroll is going to lock in new benefit commitments, make it harder to justify necessary efficiencies, and thus make things worse going forward, the feds have now made it tougher for her to cut the budget.
Moreover, so long as the bailout drawer might be open, union leaders who might be inclined to deal know that they will look like suckers and softies if they do so. That’s doubly true when they know that standing firm is a great way to accentuate the crisis, making it easier for the administrators to plead for new dollars.
A spokesman for New Jersey governor Chris Christie recently told the New York Times that federal bailouts for schools are “a real double-edged sword. This money will not be there next year, and we’re not going to get back up to the funding that they had previously been used to.”
Earlier this summer, the National Council on Teacher Quality reported the following: “Financially under the gun, many districts have found ways to avert layoffs. New York City, for example, instituted a ‘cost-of-living’ wage freeze. Other districts are asking teachers to make salary and benefits concessions — by contributing more to their health insurance plans, for instance.”
But Duncan is making such measures less likely to surface and less likely to succeed. I guess that’s what he means by courage.