When you read that legislators are giving tax breaks to businesses, or refusing to close tax loopholes for the most affluent, or claiming public employees are overpaid or have too generous benefits, or express support for charter school and voucher schemes, remember the ultimate goal is to starve school districts of funds needed to keep their doors open.
NEA-NH sends out a great deal of information to its members about new federal legislation, changes to state laws, and shenanigans taking place in local school districts. When you read these articles, or emails, or legislative updates, it is easy to shake your head and marvel at just how low regard many politicians hold of public educators and public education. While the individual actions on which we report may seem far removed from each other, or random acts taking place in geographically distant places, do not mistake the attacks on our profession and public education as isolated events. They are not.
There is a plan to undermine public education.
Particularly vulnerable is in school funding. Paying for education is an expensive proposition. Highly qualified employees who do their jobs well deserve the same consideration for compensation as do individuals employed in the private sector. Technology, books, buses, building maintenance and all other costs associated with running a school take money as well. In New Hampshire we pay a great deal of these costs through local property taxes. So, if your ultimate goal were to dismantle public education, a good strategy to accomplish this would be to starve schools of the money they need to run and to attract and retain highly qualified educators.
To do this, all you need is a catchy slogan such as “cut taxes” and you are well on your way. Add to this a generous portion of accusing public schools of failing our children and the need for “educational alternatives” and the opponents of what we do have created a perfect storm.
In New Hampshire, charter schools are seeking more and more funding from the Legislature and the source of those funds are the educational dollars which would normally go to public schools. Those are the funds that help reduce the costs of education to local taxpayers. It’s the same with voucher schemes. New Hampshire has one of those too. The effect of New Hampshire’s voucher plan would deprive the state of tens of millions of dollars so that cuts would have to be made to public school funding. When the Legislature makes these cuts, they pass the costs on to local taxpayers who in turn show up to cut school budgets.
One other way to set the stage for taxpayer revolts against funding schools, is by convincing the public that educators are overpaid and their retirement benefits cost too much. We have all heard that retirement contributions by school districts are crippling school budgets. No matter how often NEA-NH points out to legislators and the public that the current retirement underfunding is a result of a break given to employers, who for over a decade did not fund their share of the system, it’s too easy to say it’s the employee’s fault.
When that message sunk in, after the Legislature under Bill O’Brien eliminated the state’s contribution to local districts for retirement costs to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, “taxpayer” groups once again blamed public employees for rising property taxes.
Actually that strategy is a twofer: they get to demand reduced retirement benefits and use it to make budget cuts.
In recent years more communities have turned to tax caps in a short sighted effort to “control spending”. The popular appeal for these is tremendous, and since they are voted by secret ballot they are tough to defeat. Fighting them is costly and requires a great deal of planning and work. Once adopted it is almost impossible to get them repealed.
The final leg of this stool is the passage of bills that reduce business taxes, or allow the one percenters to tax huge tax breaks, or hide their money to take advantage of tax loopholes claiming that these tactics will create jobs and improve the economy. Legislators in Concord are considering cutting business taxes citing these as the reasons for doing so. Despite all the evidence that ‘trickle down’ economics doesn’t work, these bills will receive widespread support.
What’s the result: no new jobs, and less money to fund public schools. By now you know what that means; added pressure and more ammunition for cuts to education funding.
Now that the stage is set, we are seeing more and more instances where tea-partiers and free-staters are showing up at district meetings when budgets are considered and moving to make crippling cuts to district budgets. They show up in force with their strategy already worked out. The only thing that stops them is when supporters of public education show up in greater numbers. That’s the only way it happens: when we show up.
When you read that legislators are giving tax breaks to businesses, or refusing to close tax loopholes for the most affluent, or claiming public employees are overpaid or have too generous benefits, or express support for charter school and voucher schemes, remember the ultimate goal is to starve school districts of funds needed to keep their doors open. Once public schools are gone, or so reduced in their effectiveness they become irrelevant, so too will be educator’s unions who advocate for living wages and retirement benefits that actually allow people to live above the poverty line once retired, or who advocate for social justice, high education standards and for the opportunity for all children to succeed and compete in the 21st century.