Education Opinion

A Cerebral Climb Avoids a Fiscal Cliff

By Marilyn Rhames — November 14, 2012 2 min read
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Will all taxpayers in America—rich or struggling—see their taxes go up come January 2, 2013? Will the federal government simultaneously slash its budget across all departments by nearly 10 percent? As Americans are ringing in the New Year, will our government resuscitate an economic recession with its flawed policies?

I’m no political pundit, and I’m certainly not an economist, but I think this is the part in the script where Homer Simpson says “D’oh!”

Enacting the so-called “fiscal cliff” probably sounded like a good idea to Congress in 2011 to force bickering partisan legislators to take action by the end of 2012 to lower the nation’s ballooning deficit. In practice, however, it was another short-term measure to kick the can down the road a little longer, and each time that can gets kicked, the task of figuring out how to solve our nation’s debt crisis gets more complex, divisive, and urgent.

When will we ever learn that panic mode is not the best posture for making important decisions? We are not more agreeable, insightful, or efficient when facing imminent danger than we are when danger is a little ways off. Avoiding the fiscal cliff would have been easier to accomplish two years ago than now, with only two months before the drop off.

A similar phenomenon occurred in Chicago during September’s seven-day teachers strike. Negotiations were taking place several months before the new school year started, yet it took a teacher walkout to actually get a union contract signed. Education is not a poker game where the players put on a straight face and call each others’ bluff. The pressure and the heat of the strike should have been in existence before the strike to avoid a strike.

So under much duress, a teacher’s union contract was reached. I hope to get some time to do a line-by-line comparison of the old agreement to the new one to see if it is actually a better deal for the teachers. For example, what good was it to fight for teachers getting an additional two percent raise when a sizable number of teachers will likely get laid off during the contract and their unemployment benefits ended up being slashed from 10 months to five months?

And how the smart people running Chicago Public Schools allowed the district to run a projected $1.3 billion deficit is beyond my comprehension.

The Chicago Teachers Unions and the district need to stop fighting and work together to demand pension reform from the Illinois state legislators; otherwise, teachers’ pension plans will soon become insolvent—right along with Social Security. The collective public pension fund in Illinois is as much as $96 billion* in the hole, and the state is nearly $200 billion in debt. In fact, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago sent a letter to Governor Pat Quinn today stating that Illinois’ pension crisis is now “unfixable.”*

We need a cerebral climb in this nation to avoid future fiscal cliffs. The federal government borrows 43 cents on every dollar it spends. If we go over the fiscal cliff, our K-12 public schools will lose about 8.2 percent of their federal funding in 2013-2014.* Thank goodness the states make up most of our local school districts’ budgets!

We teach our kindergarteners how to share and compromise. It’s time that politicians and educators practice what we preach. If not, we will go over that fiscal cliff and waste our last, dying breath proclaiming that our ideological side was right.

*updated 11/15/12

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.