In his Education Week blog, Rick Hess explains why the the "Edujobs" school bill just passed by Congress will be "harmful, not just wasteful." The bill will dole out $318 million to public school payrolls in Michigan, and $10 billion nationwide.
Hess describes why some lean times might actually provide some benefits to the public school system, or at least to its "customers":
For more than a half century, we've spent more dollars on K-12 schooling each year than we did the year before. The problem with this is that no one makes tough choices in flush times. ... This is why recessions, threats posed by new competitors, difficult fund-raising cycles, and the like are so healthful for organizations. They make possible the occasional pruning ... (and) prod managers to tackle problems that otherwise get swept under the carpet. This permits organizations to regain their fighting trim, to reexamine old priorities, to create a leaner culture focused on productivity and performance, and to increase the likelihood that new dollars will be spent smarter.
Labor costs constitute the largest portion of school budgets, and Hess notes that the federal bailout has negative consequences on this front as well:
(It) alleviates pressure on unions to contemplate give-backs, play nice at the negotiating table, or acknowledge the need to address outsized pensions and health benefits that are underfunded and that constitute a serious threat to school operations in the decade ahead.
All told, "Edujobs" adds to existing disincentives that prevent school boards, superintendents and unions from undertaking necessary institutional housecleaning.
As we wrote last week, "Edujobs" was sold as a fix for a phony crisis. To be sure, schools face trying times as diminished property values reduce tax revenues. But Washington has sent a destructive message to public school bureaucracies: "Don't worry about tomorrow; we've got you covered." As long as schools retain this mindset they'll never rise out of their seemingly perpetual fiscal distress.