After stepping back for a few days, I could see why that perception exists. Teachers got a much-appreciated raise for the second year in a row as well as an increase in WPU. (Sidenote: WPU is the traditional funding mechanism where the state distributes so much per student to each district. It is NOT a measure of how much or little it actually takes to educate each student; the funds are pooled and shared hyper-efficiently in our crowded schools. Distributing money by number of students is just the fairest way the state has come up with to share state funds among districts with vastly different amounts of students and different needs—big/small districts, urban/rural districts, etc.)
Why are they so mad when the legislature gave them substantial raises two years in a row? Why did some educators argue against the raises?
I think the answers have to do with a common assumption about the legislature’s role and the perceived antipathy for teachers and public education from the legislators.
First, the charge of ingratitude relies on the common language I used in the question above—that the legislature “gives” public educators, and other public employees for that matter, their funding. The language bears some resemblance to common practice both nationally and locally, but I don’t think the arrangement should be viewed that way. We are not children, “ungrateful” for the reward doled out by our legislative parents. Public education for all is a morally just innovation of the 20th century, as well as part of the Constitution of the State of Utah. The legislators are constitutionally charged to effectively fund public education. Funding for the basic needs of education should be viewed as a baseline duty for legislators, just above that of showing up for the session.
Legislators are also elected to represent their constituency. This is a moral duty as well as a pragmatic one for those wishing to be re-elected. Polls at the beginning of the last legislative session and for the last few years have consistently shown immense support for increased funding for education, even when the alternative is a tax cut. Wouldn’t further underfunding public education be breaking the public trust?
So I view legislators who increased education funding during the years with the largest (2007) and 3rd largest (2008) budget surpluses ever in the history of the state as doing their duty and enacting the will of the electorate. A solid, admirable job, but not spectacular. That is not the same as fighting for real improvement in education.
The legislature often tacitly defines “gratitude” as unquestioning acceptance of their will, which educators view as insulting and paternalistic. “Look. We “gave” you these raises, so just quit griping about vouchers, top-down merit pay schemes, false accusations, unproven corporate programs, message bills aimed at non-existent educational problems (i.e. flag and Constitution in every classroom), and our removal of local control. You wouldn’t want to make us mad after all we’ve done would you?” That’s not good or “generous” government; that’s ham-handed manipulation.
That line of reasoning frustrates almost all involved with education. And on top of that general condescending attitude, legislators are constantly misrepresenting information and sending negative messages about educators, directly and indirectly. That doesn’t engender trust or gratitude.
Legislators pressured State Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to sign off on legislation attacking their right to donate personal funds to the UEA in 2001, which was over-turned in an expensive court battle, just as outside observers and Shurtleff himself originally predicted. [h/t to The Sidetrack for the link to the Trib blog]
They constantly maligned teachers and education officials as being dishonest during and after the voucher debate.
A week before the referendum vote, Rep. Dougall even photo-shopped an image of State School Board Chairman and voucher foe Kim Burningham and the Borg from Star Trek and wrote an insulting little poem on his blog. Here’s a couple lines:
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a hideous creature -- your absolute worst nightmare, With a little old chairman, so lively and slick, I knew in a moment I'd probably be sick
This was the single most childish thing I saw from a non-anonymous figure during the voucher debate, and you know the legislators would throw a self-righteous fit about disrespect for the office if Burningham were to write a similar caricature of one of them. The attack also includes the vast majority of public educators whose views Burningham represented as their state chair and voice in state government.
Senator Stephenson has made repeated comments on the Senate floor and in meetings with education officials that he believes technology (i.e. teaching software from well-connected development companies) is a substitute for class size reduction as well as accusing teachers of not being willing to use technology. He views us as replaceable by programs and disagreeable because we don’t turn all of our lessons over to computers and become skill drill facilitators. He works against the one issue I view as the most pressing need in education, class size reduction, because his business lobby group (Utah Taxpayer’s Association) doesn’t like education taxes. I would bet a higher percentage of teachers can design their own websites and Powerpoint presentations than of legislators.
I heard claims that teachers and school districts waste money in both of the town meetings I have attended in recent months. Teachers were portrayed as obstacles to progress and the legislators tried to pit us against each other by claiming veteran teachers don’t care about new teachers. (I discussed the real differences between teacher views here.) Senator Madsen made similar claims about district funds and then tried to backpedal when proved wrong by actual numbers.
These are my own views, but many teachers feel the same way. We are glad when our salary and other education funding is increased, but feel betrayed when those important improvements desired by the public are then condescendingly used as justification for attacks on public education by our elected representatives. Is that whiny? I view it as principled intellectual honesty.