A less talked about but equally big victor in Wisconsin - Education. How will the Democrats spin this one?

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    Jun 08, 2012 8:46 PM GMT
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303753904577452862561051838.html?mod=ITP_opinion_0

    Scott Walker's Education Victory - Union reforms have freed more money for classrooms in Wisconsin. And not only in Wisconsin.

    By KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL

    Overhauling a state government, facing down a union machine, beating back a recall—Scott Walker hasn't exactly been a slacker. Yet hidden among the Wisconsin governor's reforms has been another significant success: He's helped change the education paradigm.

    Conservatives have pushed education reform for decades, with notable successes. But the debate had also become predictable. Republicans argued for systemic change; Democrats argued for more money. The fight was largely confined to the education sphere, with conservatives arguing education reform for education's sake.

    The Walker breakthrough was to integrate education into the broader fiscal and structural dispute. His argument: Wisconsin is broke. We can continue to pour money into the public-union monopoly, forcing us to cut further from priorities (namely, education). Or we can enact broad structural changes, the savings from which we can use to better our state (notably, schools).

    "The argument was two-dimensional previously," says Scott Jensen, senior adviser at the American Federation for Children. Mr. Walker, "by undoing the bigger state infrastructure that locked in inefficiencies, [has] freed up additional funds to flow to the classroom, all without asking for more from taxpayers."

    Unions and liberals have argued that education "reform" is really about starving public schools of money and resources. Mr. Walker's budget victory has shown that structural government reform is the surest way to put more dollars into kids.


    It's resonating because taxpayers see it working. In addition to limiting collective bargaining, the Walker reforms let schools competitively bid on health insurance, asked employees to contribute to health and pension plans, and introduced merit pay. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the pension provision alone will save schools $600 million over two years, while competitive health bidding is already saving $220 per student per year.

    Places like the New Berlin school district, with its 4,700 students, have already reduced health-care costs by $2.3 million, retirement costs by $1.25 million, and other liabilities by $15 million. The district hired new staff, reduced class sizes, and added programs. The Shorewood district saved $537,000 simply by bidding out its health contract (previously run by a union outfit), and also reduced insurance premiums for its teachers.

    Parents are also seeing the alternative via liberal school districts that rushed to lock in contracts prior to the reforms. Among them were the Milwaukee, Kenosha and Janesville districts, which this year reported the largest number of teacher layoffs in the state. Those districts accounted for 40% of the state's teacher firings, though they educate only 12.8% of Wisconsin kids.


    Mr. Walker wasn't the first to link broader reform to education, though the national spotlight has given him the big megaphone. Even before passing his own sweeping education reforms in early 2011, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels argued that structural reform was the best path to better educational outcomes. He's ended collective bargaining rights, reformed Indiana's Medicaid program, and instituted a consumer-driven health plan (based on health savings accounts, or HSAs) for state employees, among other changes.

    Today, 56% of Indiana's budget (the highest percentage in the nation) goes to schools—and Mr. Daniels hasn't raised taxes or run a deficit. This will be the first year the state boasts full-day kindergarten. Fourteen districts have recently joined the state's HSA plan, already saving more than $5.5 million. Limits on bargaining put school administrators back in charge of budgets, allowing them to use their savings to real effect. "The point is that so many of these reforms translate into resources that can be liberated to do what is needed for K through 12," Mr. Daniels tells me.

    Elsewhere, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, arguing for budget sanity, passed a sweeping bill in 2011 that restricts collective bargaining for educators, eliminates tenure, institutes merit pay in schools and mandates the use of more efficient technologies. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal passed his own education and pension reforms this year, making the budget argument. New Jersey, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and more have passed, or are working on, reforms that variously tackle collective bargaining, tenure, merit-pay, and school choice.

    Democrats are resisting, but they helped set the stage. By 2010, states were already on a fiscal cliff when the sudden evaporation of President Obama's stimulus handouts turned emergencies into catastrophes. This gave reform-minded governors the opening to argue that big change was a prerequisite to continued dollars for schools.

    This has been a quiet revolution, masked by the broader fight over public unions, but it is big, and growing. Self-government is good for many reasons. Mr. Walker has helped show that top among those reasons are kids.
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    Jun 08, 2012 11:59 PM GMT
    I wonder how Democrats like being on the wrong side of education. Facts are facts, though they will try and spin this one.

    Funny thing is they always argue, "It's for the children. It's for our future." But no, it was really for the union machine which took dues from unwilling workers and funneled the money to the Democratic Party in return for favors and maintaining union power. Unfortunate for the current crop of Democratic leaders, the game is up. The stupid, little people who cling to their guns and their religion have seen through the charade and see the Republicans are doing more for the children, for the future, and for economic sanity.
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    Jun 09, 2012 5:59 AM GMT
    socalfitness saidI wonder how Democrats like being on the wrong side of education. Facts are facts, though they will try and spin this one.

    Funny thing is they always argue, "It's for the children. It's for our future." But no, it was really for the union machine which took dues from unwilling workers and funneled the money to the Democratic Party in return for favors and maintaining union power. Unfortunate for the current crop of Democratic leaders, the game is up. The stupid, little people who cling to their guns and their religion have seen through the charade and see the Republicans are doing more for the children, for the future, and for economic sanity.


    As is often noted, it's a sad irony that liberals who claim they advocate on behalf of the poor and weak often hurt the ones they advocate for the most.
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    Jun 09, 2012 7:12 AM GMT
    riddler78 said
    socalfitness saidI wonder how Democrats like being on the wrong side of education. Facts are facts, though they will try and spin this one.

    Funny thing is they always argue, "It's for the children. It's for our future." But no, it was really for the union machine which took dues from unwilling workers and funneled the money to the Democratic Party in return for favors and maintaining union power. Unfortunate for the current crop of Democratic leaders, the game is up. The stupid, little people who cling to their guns and their religion have seen through the charade and see the Republicans are doing more for the children, for the future, and for economic sanity.


    As is often noted, it's a sad irony that liberals who claim they advocate on behalf of the poor and weak often hurt the ones they advocate for the most.

    I think advocating on behalf of the poor and weak is many cases just a schtick as a means to advance their own power. That the followers don't wise up is the power of ideology blinding them to the facts. It would be logical and ethical for them to look at the results of Walker's and other's whose policies have benefitted education and change their viewpoint. But they can't and won't.