Knowing What We Pay For
Published: September 10th, 2013
By: Tom Morgan

Knowing what we pay for

Should you be kept in the dark?

There is a debate raging in New York about what you should know about teachers. The legislature sides with teachers’ unions. It allows you to see data on how your kids’ teachers performed. But only your kids’ current teachers. And only if you are a parent.

You cannot look at performance data on next year’s teachers. You cannot look at how particular teachers performed if you are not a parent.

I can understand why teachers feel the data dump is unfair. It is out of context. It does not consider circumstances, makeup of the class, etc. Parents may not understand it and so may misjudge teachers. It invades teachers’ privacy.

But this debate ought to include sympathy for you, as a taxpayer too. After all, if you pay property tax you pay for the teachers. And you pay big time. Even if you rent, you pay school taxes. Your landlord has to charge higher rents to pay his school tax. He pays on your behalf.

As you know, the school taxes you pay are about the highest in the nation. Year after year. Taxes you pay on your income are also very high. Those taxes fund the gigantic education department in Albany. One of the largest such departments in the world.

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Since you pay for all this, maybe you ought to be able to see data on the teachers. Your taxes allow for $19,000 a year to be spent per pupil in the state. Maybe you deserve to know what your money funds.

Teachers complain, yes. But some teachers also invest. How would they feel if companies on the stock market did not have to reveal how they perform? The law requires it. To protect the stockholders and their money. So why not protect taxpayers and their money with teacher data?

Teachers dine. And are happy to find ratings of restaurants online. Teachers vacation. They welcome ratings of hotels and resorts. They like to check out critiques by customers.

Teachers read books. Well, we hope they do. They are pleased to read how others rate books they might buy.

Teachers check into hospitals for treatment. Many check out the hospitals before they check in.

In other words teachers, most of us, believe we deserve information before we spend our money. How many of us check out reviews of cars before we commit to buy one?

Yes, some reviews are skewed. Yes, some are biased. But most of us can recognize such stuff.

The limits the lawmakers put on the data are similar to the blockades they put up to protect themselves. They hide all sorts of information about their activities. We have to have a Freedom of Information Act to pry open the books. And the pols and civil servants make this as difficult as they can for us.

In various ways the politicians and teachers suggest you cannot be trusted with the data. They suggest you should not be allowed to hold public workers accountable.

They make some good points. But some of those points don’t stand up well to this simple counterpoint: The folks who pay should know what they pay for. And if the data is difficult to interpret or unfair, let’s work to improve it.

From in Morgan.