State teachers union wants more money, less accountability
Next week, ballots will show up in the mail, and Colorado voters will soon decide the fate of a $1 billion income tax increase for schools.
You’ve probably seen the ads for Amendment 66, funded in large measure by the state’s very wealthy labor unions. It’s a curious thing, the wealth of teachers unions. If our education funding system is broke, how come the unions have millions to spend on politicking?
It reminds me of the feud that New Jersey’s never-bashful Gov. Chris Christie got into with the teachers union in his state.
When New Jersey was wrestling with its own funding questions, Christie suggested that the union just spend its political and operating budget on actual teachers and education and that would fix it all. Snap!
The union didn’t appreciate that much, and it has spent the ensuing years trashing the flamboyant governor. To get a sense of how much the union brand matters these days, Christie’s favorability numbers are well over 60 percent in a heavily Democratic state, notwithstanding his little feud.
But what the unions lack in popularity, they more than make up for with an abundant stash of political cash. Here, that cash is funding really slick TV advertisements promoting Amendment 66.
The ads are Hollywood-grade. “Bring back gym class for a $133 a year,” one says.
Since every parent with school-aged children I have surveyed already has children taking physical education, I’m wondering if I get to keep my $133 either way.
The idea, likewise, that Amendment 66 only costs a family 100 or so bucks a year is balderdash for anyone with taxable income of more than $40,000 a year.
For many middle income wage earners and small businesses, the tax hike will amount to a 25 percent increase on state income taxes. (The actual income tax rate would increase from 4.63 percent to 5.9 percent for those with taxable income over $75,000 a year.)
A 25 percent increase may not be as much as the huge cost increases you’ll see in your health insurance as a result of Obamacare, but it’s more than the pittance the union-funded ads imply.
Amendment 66 would be the largest tax increase in the history of the state. Except for that small obfuscation, and the phony allegation that many Colorado kids don’t have gym class available, the pro-66 advertisements are 100 percent true.
But there is a more sinister plot that should give voters even more reason to torch Amendment 66.
Gov. John Hickenlooper is out praising the bold reforms that the $1 billion income tax hike would fund. I will spare a full analysis of these reforms (hint: meager). Here’s what matters:
The one on-the-books reform that is meaningful, a reform I helped write that would allow teachers with three years of demonstrably poor results to be terminated, is itself in jeopardy, thanks to a likely lawsuit from the teachers union.
The tenure reform law, which does not go nearly far enough in giving school districts power to pay great teachers more but allows them to show the door to teachers who don’t get the job done, became law over pronounced union objections. The unions support a tenure system that makes it effectively impossible to shuffle out bad teachers, short of the commission of a crime.
But the tenure-reform law passed anyway. It was a great bipartisan accomplishment.
Since the law passed a few years ago, the unions have worked quietly to water the whole reform down with delays, exceptions — you know the routine.
Last month, the unions got caught trying to grab the big cookie in the cookie jar, when word broke that they are poised to file major litigation to torpedo the tenure reform.
By waiting until after the election to file suit, the unions are no doubt hoping to get the Amendment 66 money, and then scuttle the reforms that are its selling point.
Hickenlooper says we shouldn’t worry. If the union lawsuit succeeds in torching tenure reform after the tax hike is approved, he will personally lead an effort to get it re-established at the ballot. Coming from the guy who three years ago said he supported the death penalty and wouldn’t support tax increases in a bad economy, our state’s chief executive will have to forgive us for being dubious when he asks us to bet the come.
All of this maneuvering, meanwhile, is mostly off the voter’s radar screen, just as the tax hike’s boosters are hoping.
Vote for Amendment 66, we are told, and Colorado will have bold school reforms and gym class for all. It would be a more credible argument if those bold reforms weren’t under attack by the same groups funding the tax increase, and our kids didn’t already have P.E.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.