Commentary and Criticism about the National Education Association (NEA)
When I made the claim a while back that teachers are not underpaid (I never said overpaid by the way), I upset a lot of people. I now have to confess that I probably went too far in that blog post. I used my own personal experience from New Jersey and assumed it applied throughout the entire United States. I have somewhat softened my view since then. Clearly, some teachers have it better than others.
NOW TO THE ISSUE AT HAND
I started thinking about this issue again last week when I read a Tweet from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). I clicked on the link in the Tweet and was taken to a UFT website article called The fight for paid parental leave.
It turns out that the UFT launched a campaign to fight for paid parental leave some time ago and is asking for member support because the “… current parental leave policy forces members to choose between their own children and their profession.”
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I can totally understand the desire for paid parental leave. When my wife delivered our second child, she almost died because of a postpartum hemorrhage. In addition, our son had digestive problems which complicated his feeding regimen.
At this point, my wife had used all of her sick days and so we were relying on my salary only. Finances were seriously strained at this point. Because we relied on her teacher salary to make ends meet, we had to make some tough decisions both about her health and the welfare of our son when it came time for picking a day for her to return to work.
She eventually went back after 3 weeks and we put our son in daycare. Fortunately everything worked out OK for us. But I can still remember my point of view from those many years ago. Never once did I expect either of our school districts to pay for parental leave. I thought that the unpaid maternal leave which the districts granted was more than fair.
WHO SHOULD PAY?
I distinctly recall that at no point did I feel that the public (i.e. the taxpayers) owed me compensation for our private decision to have a baby delivered during the school year. Knowing that we would be living on one salary for a short time period, we saved up some money to get us through those lean times and we managed as well as possible. With twenty-twenty hindsight I also concede that we should have been more responsible - we should have planned the delivery for July. This would have given us a couple of months of breathing space before needing daycare.
Young parents (like we were) don’t always think these things through in the heat of the moment …
ABOUT THAT TAXPAYER
You probably already realize where I am going with all of this.
As a self-interested individual, of course I want as many perks in my job as I can get. My local union has been pretty good about getting us a decent 2% annual raise, keeping our 12 cumulative sick/personal days secure and making sure that the amount we contribute for health insurance stays in a reasonable range.
Beyond this, I don’t expect much else.
Do I want a whole lot more? Of course, who wouldn’t?
But I interact with individuals in the private sector all of the time and they keep me grounded. We need to remember that these are the people (the taxpayers) who fund our salary and benefits. They complain that their local and state taxes are high enough already. And given that the average cost per pupil in the United States is over $12,000 (according to the NEA in 2016), they balk at the idea of spending more on education.
Can you blame them for being “stingy” when the average cost of a private school is under $10,000 per year? And I will add that this lower figure is for the 2017-18 school year. The NEA’s public school figure was for 2016. This means that the current discrepancy is probably a lot larger.
And I won’t even go into the fact that U.S. students fare much more poorly against students in other parts of the world who pay way less per student. You can read all about this at Rossier Online
THE BOTTOM LINE – TAXPAYERS WILL VOTE WITH THEIR FEET
I wrote a blog piece last month which concluded that you can’t get blood from a stone.
No matter how you look at it, there isn’t enough money to pay for the set of benefits that teachers currently enjoy. Asking taxpayers to provide more benefits (no matter how much they are “needed”) will simply not work. The numbers don’t add up.
ASKING FOR MORE?
Unions like the NEA, UFT, AFT and all of the other state unions can, like the little Dutch boy, continue to hope that their efforts will stem the tide. But the sooner they wake up to reality the better for all.
Teachers need to be more content with the benefits that they currently have. Asking for more given the current state of federal /state government finances is destined to fail.
Worse, it may lead to a more restrictive backlash from the taxpayers.
Remember, the people who fund our salary (the taxpayers), also have bills to pay. At what point will they finally draw the line and say enough?
I’m not sure I want to get to that point.