If the Oregonian is right in blaming teachers, with their high pension and health care costs, for overcrowded school classrooms, allow me to propose a simple solution to the problem. Actually two solutions, one modest, and the other somewhat immodest.
But first, let's review what the Oregonian reported in today's front page story.
- For each teacher, secretary, principal, janitor and other worker, Oregon schools paid an average of $18,300 for health insurance and retirement pay in 2002-03. That was 55 percent more than schools across the nation.
- Starting this month, it gets worse.
- "Taxpayers in Oregon are pumping money into the public education system that doesn't benefit the learning environment in classrooms one bit," says Jim Green, senior legislative advocate for the Oregon School Boards Association. [NOTE: The OSBA has its own health care plan which it would like to market statewide.]
- Oregon lawmakers plan to give schools at least $300 million more over the next two years, but that won't bring relief from big class sizes and program cuts.
Even after acknowledging late in the article that "... Oregon spent about 8 percent less per student than the national average in 2003-04...", the point of the piece is clear: Oregon taxpayers are being played for chumps by the all powerful education lobby.
Never mind the impact of Measure 5, the dwindling contributions of corporations, the low business tax rate in Oregon, the ignorance of voters about how school funds are raised and spent, and the continued deprioritization by citizens of public education over the past decade. The Oregonian tells us, emphatically, that we must reign in the high costs of employee benefits in order to save our public schools.
With that in mind, here is my Modest Proposal: Let's WalMartize our public education system!
How would it work? Simple:
- Ban unions. That's the WalMart way. It allows them to keep wages, and prices, low.
- Cut wages. The average yearly pay for sales "associates" at WalMart is $13,861, far below the average teaching salary in Oregon of about $42,000. Of course the CEO of WalMart pocketed $17 million last year, so if that sum is divvied up among the 55,000 workers in Oregon schools, the average wage could go up, slightly.
- Cut health benefits. WalMart's health insurance plans cover only 48% of their employees. Big, big savings there.
- Cut pension benefits. Neither WalMart's profit sharing nor 401k plan guarantees a monthly pension benefit. In 2003, WalMart contributed about $25 a month to pensions per employee.
The low wage, low benefit strategy of WalMart, however, comes with hidden public costs--taxpayer-funded healthcare and public assistance-- as this 2004 UC Berkeley study points out. But hey, Berkeley is a leftist school, so what can you expect from them.
For those of you who don't like the WalMart model, here's my immodest proposal:
- Shift the entire cost of health care to the federal government. That means single-payer national health care.
- Shift the entire cost of pension and disability retirement to the federal government. In other words, turn Social Security into a national retirement fund.
I've argued before that while such an immodest proposal sounds extreme, it would benefit everyone, in both the private and public sectors. It would be a boon for business which would no longer be saddled with the ever-increasing costs of health and retirement benefits. And we wouldn't have to squabble locally over meager increases in funding to vital public services, like education.
Either way, modest or immodest, we wouldn't have to eat the children.