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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Day that Ends in -y

by folkbum

So Patrick McIlheran is bashing the teachers union:
Doyle and several other governors say they want any federal stimulus to bail out their budget deficits with $250 million in aid to schools. Not for building new ones: No poised shovels here. It's just to fend off cuts, says Doyle. While federal spending on schools has risen 40% in the past eight years, without such further insulation, "we will see a great falloff in the quality of our schools," he said. [. . .]

Our state spends, per person, a bit above the national median. Wisconsin incomes are lower than average. The budget's a mess not because we're undertaxed but because the state chronically spends as if its taxpayers were richer than they are.

Fiscally insulating school spending does nothing about this. Even if the feds could bail out our state without robbing someone else, it simply would preserve a level of spending that we couldn't afford anyway. A bailout forestalls real change.

Real change wouldn't ruin our schools, either. Wisconsin school spending is driven by high labor costs. Salaries aren't so out of line. Benefits are, sixth-highest per pupil by federal figures. Not coincidentally, most school districts are locked into high-cost, traditional health plans, a primary seller of which is an arm of the state's leading teachers union, WEAC. [. . .] So why does Doyle want Washington to salvage states' bad school spending habits? Got me; I suspect he's being a pal to WEAC.
At least the man is consistent: He blamed UAW for the failures of GM, Ford, and Chrysler, after all, so why not blame the union for the bankruptcy of our schools.

Problem is, the union is not why Wisconsin's benefit costs are so high and why they have skyrocketed in the last decade or two--the high cost of health care, generally, is. From the paper he works for, so, you know, he should have read it:
The Mercer survey found that the cost of health benefits in the state averaged $10,037 for each employee--18% higher than the national average of $8,482. [. . .] This year, total health-benefit costs for Wisconsin employers increased 4% for each active employee, compared with a 6.3% increase nationally, according to the Mercer survey. The increases would have been higher if employers hadn't raised deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses.
I--a teacher!--am one of those whose "deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses" was raised last year. But consider the stat at the beginning of that blockquote: Wisconsin's health care costs are 18% higher than he national average. Not school labor costs--it doesn't sound like schools were even in the Mercer survey--but health care costs generally. I am not sure how WEAC is to blame for that.

In fact, studies have shown that WEAC is not to blame. Again, this is from the paper McIlheran works for:
High health care costs in the Milwaukee area stem from the market power of health care systems, according to a study by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

The study contends that health care systems have increased their market power by employing physicians, which gives them a referral base for their hospitals, which makes it harder for would-be competitors to enter the market.
To be fair, the article does allow the systems comprising near-monopolies outside of the Milwaukee area to claim, without data, that they are not as expensive as Milwaukee area providers. However, it is clear that statewide, our health care costs are higher than average and it's not the fault of WEAC or public employees' unions.

So what to do about expensive education spending? Well, one thing would be to let the feds give us some money. (They already owe us 35 five years of promised special education money, after all.) Another thing would be to implement some kind of health care reform that would make it possible for not just schools but everyone else in Wisconsin to get health care at a lower price, something like--though not necessarily it exactly--Healthy Wisconsin, which could have been saving local school districts (and, hence, taxpayers) hundreds of millions of dollars had it been enacted two years ago.

But why talk about something that would help people when you can just bash the union? At least, that's Mcilerhan's ploy.

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