Sunday, March 27, 2005

Edith Prague And The Coming Destruction Of Catholic Education

Edith Prague, D-Columbia, the co-chairwoman of the legislature’s labor and public employees committee, is to unions, roughly, what Robespierre and the sans culottes were to the French Revolution.

It was only a matter of time before the destructors-elect of urban public education should turn their eyes towards the further destruction of Catholic and private education in Connecticut.

Prague is the author of a stupid bill that would, according to most news accounts, “empower Catholic school teachers to bargain collectively.” No doubt that is how the bill was described in the press release media outlets uncritically reproduce in their stories.

The bill would unionize Catholic school teachers. If Prague’s bill is enacted by the legislature, it would in fact drive up costs, largely by increasing the salaries of Catholic school teachers to such a point as to cause the closure of yet more urban parochial schools that are an embarrassment to public schools -- because Catholic schools provide a higher quality education at a much lower cost.

Increasing teacher’s salaries in hopes of raising the quality of education is an exercise in futility. There is no responsible study that establishes a causal connection between high salaries and quality education. Just the opposite may be true: The record of Catholic education – which consistently has been able to provide quality schooling for poor inner city children drawn from the same demographic pool that public schools spectacularly fail – demonstrates that inflated teacher’s salaries have little to do with producing literate students.

The notion that yet more money poured into the pockets of teachers produces students who know how to read, write and figure -- the minimum that may be demanded of educators -- is a pedagogical urban legend peddled by legislative flunkies of powerful teacher’s unions.

But the legislators bought by teacher’s unions will not sleep peacefully until Catholic education is brought on a par with public education and teachers are unionized.

When this happens, those who have not studied the recent past will be condemned to repeat it: Good Catholic schools, unable to afford inflated salaries, will close and Catholic students will be discharged into public schools. Tax money collected by Connecticut from the parent of a Catholic school student, now providing for the education of one public school student, will follow the repatriated Catholic student in his journey from private to public school – and this will result in a net loss in money for public schools.

Presently, a parent who sends his child to a Catholic school is paying in taxes the per-year cost of one student attending public schools. When the Catholic student moves into public school, not only is the money his parent provided to public education lost to the anonymous public school student whose tuition had been paid by the altruistic parent of the Catholic school student; the state must now collect in taxes the per year cost for the education it must provide for a student who formerly attended a Catholic school.

When legislators do the math, they likely will reject Prague’s ill considered bill for economic reasons. But the punitive bill ought to be rejected for other reasons as well.

Urban public school education in Connecticut will never improve unless legislators cut themselves loose from the shakedown tactics of powerful interest groups. The most powerful lobby in Connecticut, it should surprise no one, are not mitered bishops, nuns and priests.

No, the most corrupting lobby at the state capitol is teacher’s union, which provide a sizable chunk of the campaign funds – tax money re-laundered by public educators to bought legislators – used to win re-election to office, from which platform the purchased legislator can return the favor by writing bills that have the practical effect of driving from the field anyone who would presume to compete with teachers that release their students untaught into a world with fierce teeth and bloody claws.

The name of this syndrome, when used by reporters and columnists to condemn corrupt politicians and public contractors is “pay to play.” But there is in Connecticut no more effective and corrupting alliance than the lovey-dovey connection between urban public school teachers – who continuance in their jobs does not depend upon performance – and feather-bedding legislators like Prague.

If the legislature had a spine, it would tie public school salaries to performance through a voucher system and weed out those timeservers who rely upon Prague and others like her to provide a shelter against rational market forces that tend to improve performance in the private sphere.

Prague’s bill is an instrument of destruction pushed forward by bought legislators. In a rational world, a bill like this would instantly be killed by honest unbought public servants – but there are none on the state’s labor and public employees committee.

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