By Victor Skinner

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan’s teachers union recently announced its “reform” plan for public schools: create a new Internet tax and increase the state sales taxes to expand the current K-12 system.

moneyglassesInstead of empowering parents with educational options – encouraging them to engage in their child’s education – the Michigan Education Association wants to prop up the old, ineffective system with a lot of new money.

The union wants to expand public education to 2-year-olds and to force community colleges to award credits to high schoolers who earn a B or better in certain subjects at their public school. The MEA also proposed year-round academic programs for at-risk students and to “fully fund” education for special-needs students, the Lansing State Journal reports.

The MEA’s plan is designed to increase adult employment, rather than student achievement. All of the reforms outlined in the union’s plan require public schools to substantially increase spending on labor without any real changes to how the tax money is spent. The plan indirectly calls for more teachers without any realistic provisions for measuring and monitoring the quality of instruction students receive.

MEA officials also appear to be sharpening their argument against performance-based school funding. The union’s “reform” plan warns that “such drastic changes should be undertaken very carefully,” the Journal reports.

“Any attempt to measure performance and use that as the comparative basis on which to base funding must take into account the effort and ability of the classroom professionals,” according to the MEA plan. “It must also take into account the organization and effectiveness of the school district in creating the environment under which those professionals perform their duties.

“Further, it must take into account the effort put forth by each student into his/her education. This includes factors like attendance, engaging in the learning process and completing the requirements of courses of study.”

In other words, the MEA wants to inject so many variables and other factors into the process that it will be nearly impossible to measure anything, much less hold teachers accountable for student learning.

Perhaps the most offensive union suggestion, however, is its desire to increase the burden on taxpayers to cover the cost of its public education expansion. The union wants Congress to enact an Internet tax to force online merchants to tax Michigan residents. The union also “proposes extending the sales tax to select services to raise the revenue needed to fund public education,” according to the Journal.

We don’t like the union’s ideas. We don’t think they would work. If schools could be improved simply by pumping more money into them, then America’s government schools would be world class. Education spending in the U.S. has climbed steadily while student learning has flat-lined.

We believe a far better approach would be to increase educational options for parents, like virtual, charter and private school opportunities, and to let parents decide the best place for their children to learn. Moving toward true school choice increases competition and forces both public and private schools to elevate their game to attract students and revenue.

If parents have transparent information about schools, including understandable data on how students are performing, they’ll naturally pick the best schools and force poor performing schools to shut their doors.

If the teachers union was serious about improving student learning, it would embrace the concepts of school choice and push educators to strive to make their schools the best.

If the MEA was focused on students it would realize public schools could implement some of its suggested changes by eliminating union perks that have nothing to do with education – such as unused sick day bonuses – without asking overworked taxpayers for more money.

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