The war that is being waged on the middle-class by Americans For Prosperity and their lackeys in Republican governor’s mansions has been ongoing for some time, but their latest escalation to include public school teachers as their primary target is beyond comprehension for reasonable Americans. The concerted effort by Republican governors to use teacher unions as scapegoats for budget deficits is a ploy to engender suspicion and hatred for our most valued public servants. Besides directing public anger at school teachers, Republicans are concealing funding mismanagement and corporate tax giveaways that are heavily contributing to state deficits.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to eliminate public school teacher’s collective bargaining arrangement with the state is more than just a budget deficit move. At the urging and with support from Koch Industries and their conservative think tanks, Walker is attempting to break labor unions by demonizing their members as lazy, financial liabilities for states that are cash-strapped in an already tight economy. At a time when Americans are discovering that some of the largest corporations and banks in the country are paying absolutely no income tax while taking subsidies and bailouts from the government, Republicans are blaming public school teachers for the problem.
The median family household income in America is $46,326 and the median teacher income is approximately $45,000 per year putting teachers slightly under middle-class status. Teachers make less than police officers, firefighters, and nurses who seldom have more than two years of college training. The average school teacher spends at least 5.5 years in college plus yearly training mandatory in most states just to keep their jobs. Teacher pensions are often blamed on state’s budget deficit woes, but that is also an area where statistics do not match the rhetoric coming from Republican lawmakers and tea party members who are ignorant of the way pension plans operate.
Every wage earner in America must pay in to some type of retirement plan whether it is a qualified plan (like railroad, police, firefighter and teacher plans) or Social Security. The Social Security payroll tax deduction that most Americans see in their paychecks is 7.65% of wages that the employer matches per the law. Self-employed Americans pay 15.3% which is simply the normal payroll deduction and employer matching amount. Teachers’ qualified pension plans require teachers to pay an amount that is 1-2% higher than Social Security contributions meaning they will naturally receive more retirement income than Social Security. Many teachers work in the private sector and pay in to Social Security, but will never receive a penny because their pension plan is at a higher rate. What that means is that a teacher can work in the private sector, pay into Social Security for 20 years and never collect Social Security even though they paid in to the system for 20 years. It is hardly an equitable deal, but that is the law.
Much of the anti-union sentiment in America is borne out of jealousy, and most private sector workers admit as much. One common complaint from conservatives who support Governor Walker’s attempts to break unions is that everyone does not get the same benefits as union employees. An often heard story is that private sector employees lost retirement savings in the financial meltdown of 2008 because they put their retirement savings into 401K plans instead of Social Security. Teacher pension plans also lost up to 40% of their investments, but they did not complain or ask the government to bail them out.
So why do conservatives and particularly, Koch Industries demonize public school teachers and their unions? It is simply because their goal is to privatize and change the education system in America to reflect their twisted free-market philosophy. At Koch Industries’ semi-annual policy meetings, one of the subjects they discuss and strategize are how to shape the education system in America to meet their requirements. It is the main reason that conservatives want a school voucher system for education. Private schools, religious schools, and home-schools can ignore state mandated curriculum and pay teachers minimum wages while teaching that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and the climate is controlled by god. If conservatives can convince more people that climate science is invalid, it will be much more difficult to pass environmental regulations that the energy industry is opposed to.
Eventually, conservatives want to destroy all labor unions that tend to support Democrats much more than Republicans. Today it is public school teachers, but police officers, firefighters, and all public employees are at risk of losing union representation in negotiating wages, pensions, and benefit packages. Americans see the value of law enforcement and fire protection, but they are not immune to privatization efforts any more than public school teachers. Once labor unions are destroyed, the floodgates to privatization will be open and there will be no turning back. Under the Bush Administration, private security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued to fleece the American people and government with no-bid contracts and no accountability.
America’s education system was at one time the envy of the civilized world, and that is in part due to the high-quality of its teachers. In a privatized system, individual schools will set the standards for qualification and like most private and home-schools in America, teacher credentials are not required and minimum standards are left up to the administrator, or worse yet, parents who do not see the value in a well-rounded education. But that, after all, is the goal of conservatives. The most dangerous thing for Republicans is an educated populace that can think critically and see through the lies and misinformation put out by news outlets like Fox News or think tanks like the Heritage Foundation or Americans For Prosperity.
Conservatives do want to destroy labor unions to hurt Democrats and send more Americans into poverty. Demonizing teachers as overpaid civil servants living off of government entitlements (although not true) plays well to ignorant tea party types who are looking for any reason to hate the government and liberal elitists who hate god, guns and the bible. It is no accident that intelligent people are starting to stand up to corporatists and demand they pay their fair share of taxes, stop outsourcing jobs, polluting the environment, and getting government subsidies.
The war on the middle-class by the Koch brothers and their minions in the Republican Party is now very public and it is about time Americans consider life with David Koch as emperor. Labor unions did not start the war, but they are proving to be up to the task and the public is waking up to the dangers of the Koch Brothers. It is refreshing to see that most Americans value a quality education paid for with their tax dollars and are not impressed that Koch lackeys like Governor Walker are making teachers the first casualties. It is a good thing too, because after teachers are gone, the next victims are police officers and firefighters that taxpayers depend on for public safety. Americans can rest assured that privatizing and paying minimum wages to educators, law enforcement, and fire fighters will mean more unqualified civil servants like Governor Scott Walker; the country can ill-afford for that to happen.