Steve Schuck

Steve Schuck

COVID and the pandemic it has created have been brutal on everyone, but especially those with the fewest resources. Countless innocent, low-wage earning Coloradans have lost their jobs, and if that isn't bad enough, they face the additional stress of an uncertain future. Tragically, the poorest among us are suffering the most.

All their schools have been closed, meaning that many fortunate enough to have jobs cannot go to work because they have no alternative but to stay at home and be their children’s teachers, a role for which most have neither training nor preparation.  They are encountering extreme financial pressure in addition to unprecedented physical, emotional, psychological and behavioral challenges.

Not a pretty picture for too many of our fellow citizens. Unfortunately, they cannot look for any magic beans coming from the Golden Dome, as the legislature is already talking about cutting the state’s budget by over $3 billion, a 20% general fund reduction.  Private individuals and foundations have stepped up with emergency funding for needy families and mentoring for small businesses.

Yet, very disappointingly, the spirit of togetherness has not reached the CEA — the teachers union.

One might assume that there is consensus that this crisis calls for shared sacrifice, but one would be wrong after learning more about what the CEA, aka the Colorado Education Association, wants for itself.  Not one of its members has lost his or her job as a result of this historic crisis, yet it just petitioned the governor to “prioritize educators, workers, and students.” Besides having the list backward, could not the CEA have made some attempts to help address the budget shortfall rather than just lobby to advance its own self-interests at the expense of all others?

Rather than suggesting ways to reduce expenses during this crisis, the CEA just petitioned the governor to “mandate that school districts continue to pay all employees for the entire school year and calling on the legislature to not take any action that would negatively impact current year school district budgets.”

Yes, you read that right. Colorado is required to produce a balanced budget, meaning wholesale cuts to all kinds of valuable programs. But CEA has the tone-deaf nerve to assert than not one dollar can be reallocated from education budgets and that its members should be some kind of protected class. But wait, there’s more. Rather than focus on the education of children, it further petitioned the governor to “implore ICE to cease all arrests and release nonviolent offenders.” We can have that debate. But what does it have to do with our schools, educating kids, or the budget crisis at hand?

And this — rather than being concerned about property owners who pay the real estate taxes that largely fund public schools, the union added to its demands that the governor, “halt rent/mortgage payments for the duration of the crisis,” demonstrating an alarming ignorance of the most fundamental principles of Economics 101.

All of the union demands might be digestible if its members’ students were actually learning, but here are the tragic facts:

Less than half of the kids in Colorado can read, write, add, and subtract at grade level — yes, less than half!

Less than a quarter of the black and Hispanic kids in Colorado can read, write, add and subtract at grade level — yes, less than one in four!

Why is the CEA using its muscle on a predictable litany of extraneous issues instead of focusing, laser-like, on ideas and suggestions about how to navigate this funding crisis and how to help parents and children adapt to this changed educational reality?

Why doesn’t the union provide a valuable, significant service by dropping the nonsense and instead tap the expertise of its members to help parents with this brave, complex new world of digital and distance learning.

Parental involvement is what the system has always wanted, isn’t it? Perhaps CEA could act as a resource to help parents in the critical pursuit of being effective interim teachers of their own children.

Until this virus hit, education was being delivered the same way it was 100 years ago, using the same assembly-line model, treating teachers like factory workers. Teachers were, and still are, true professionals and should be treated as such. That means being rewarded, incentivized and compensated for what students actually learn while in their classrooms. 

How refreshing, how exciting would it be if CEA chose to use this crisis as an opportunity to negotiate new master agreements that reward teachers, and even administrators, on the basis of progress their students actually achieve? 

How about compensating our best teachers more than bureaucrats?  How about improving results while lowering costs by making a major commitment to greater utilization of technology?  How about arranging classes based on student mastery of subject material rather than arbitrarily by age? 

What we are doing now clearly is not working.  Einstein was right when he said, “Insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.”

It is time to elect a new generation of school boards, made up of a new generation of no-excuse leaders who will encourage and demand new ideas, new methods, new approaches all focused on student achievement, doing so in a modernized system that fully aligns the interests of students and the adults responsible for educating them 

Rearranging deck chairs will not save a sinking ship. This may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to replace a "one size fits none," antiquated, failing 19th-century model with one that is accountable, performance- and results-driven, one that is designed for the 21st century, both during this COVID interruption and when our classrooms are thankfully open again.

Steve Schuck is a Colorado Springs businessman, school-choice activist, and founder of Parents Challenge, a nonprofit that empowers low-income families with information and financial resources to exercise educational freedom.

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