Thanks to Nobel-Prize-Winning Economist Paul Krugman for writing yesterday’s column in the New York Times explaining why Republicans ended up at war with America’s schoolteachers. Here are some excerpts:
“At the state and local levels, the conservative obsession with tax cuts has forced the G.O.P. into what amounts to a war on education, and in particular a war on schoolteachers. That war is the reason we’ve been seeing teacher strikes in multiple states.
“To understand how they got to this point, you need to know what government in America does with your tax dollars. The federal government, as an old line puts it, is basically an insurance company with an army: nondefense spending is dominated by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. State and local governments, however, are basically school districts with police departments. Education accounts for more than half the state and local work force; protective services like police and fire departments account for much of the rest.
“So what happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts.
Usually these tax cuts are sold with the promise that lower taxes will provide a huge boost to the state economy. This promise is, however, never — and I mean never — fulfilled; the right’s continuing belief in the magical payoff from tax cuts represents the triumph of ideology over overwhelming negative evidence.
“What tax cuts do, instead, is sharply reduce revenue, wreaking havoc with state finances. For a great majority of states are required by law to balance their budgets. This means that when tax receipts plunge, the conservatives running many states can’t do what Trump and his allies in Congress are doing at the federal level — simply let the budget deficit balloon. Instead, they have to cut spending.
“And given the centrality of education to state and local budgets, that puts schoolteachers in the cross hairs.
“How, after all, can governments save money on education? They can reduce the number of teachers, but that means larger class sizes, which will outrage parents. They can and have cut programs for students with special needs, but cruelty aside, that can only save a bit of money at the margin. The same is true of cost-saving measures like neglecting school maintenance and scrimping on school supplies to the point that many teachers end up supplementing inadequate school budgets out of their own pockets.
“So what conservative state governments have mainly done is squeeze teachers themselves.
“Now, teaching kids was never a way to get rich. However, being a schoolteacher used to put you solidly in the middle class, with a decent income and benefits. In much of the country, however, that is no longer true.
“So we’re left with a nation in which teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor, unable to make ends meet unless they take second jobs. And they can’t take it anymore.
“One way to think about what’s currently happening in a number of states is that the anti-Obama backlash, combined with the growing tribalism of American politics, delivered a number of state governments into the hands of extreme right-wing ideologues. These ideologues really believed that they could usher in a low-tax, small-government, libertarian utopia. Predictably, they couldn’t.
“For a while they were able to evade some of the consequences of their failure by pushing the costs off onto public sector employees, especially schoolteachers. But that strategy has reached its limits. Now what?
“Well, some Republicans have actually proved willing to learn from experience, reverse tax cuts and restore education funding. But all too many [refuse to admit], even implicitly, that they were wrong, they’re lashing out, in increasingly unhinged ways, at the victims of their policies.”
Here in Arizona, we wait to see where Ducey and the ideologues in the legislature will fall — among those willing to admit the error of tax cuts or not. So far, the response has not been encouraging. First, Ducey proposed raising teacher salaries by taking funds from other education needs and from healthcare for the poor and disabled. He ignored that the problem is not just teacher salaries, it’s wages for others delivering education to our children, it’s crumbling buildings, outdated textbooks, and a shortage of basic supplies. Ducey’s initial proposal flew poorly, so now a sales tax increase is being floated — in a state that already has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. The only real solutions are to claw back some of those corporate tax cuts that have destroyed our state’s fiscal health over the last decade and revisit the philosophy that imposes a non-progressive income tax.