Hugh Hewitt: Interests of younger, older teachers clash in November

More than two-and-a-half million teachers are back at work this week in the nation's public schools.

Not all of them belong to the National Education Association, but the NEA nevertheless has a membership of 3.2 million. And therein is the political problem facing teachers this November.

Divides exist and are growing between the interests of retired teachers and working teachers, between older teachers and young teachers, and between classroom teachers and everyone else in the NEA's 3.2 million number.

The NEA, like all public employee unions, approaches every problem as one of insufficient funding, and traditionally the demand for a larger slice of the public pie has been enough to keep various factions together in whatever political battle looms.

That may end in November.

If, for example, you are a young teacher in California, you know the state is in a fiscal crisis the likes of which it has never seen before, that taxpayers are unwilling to shoulder any larger burden, and that every proposal to hike this or that revenue source sends even more employers scurrying to Texas.

The classroom career you have dreamed about and now begun is threatened not by voters who routinely support efforts to direct resources to classroom teachers, but by other embedded Sacramento special interests and increasingly by the demands of retired teachers who, having put their three decades into the classroom, insist on every penny promised them and on health packages agreed to long ago.

Legislators don't know what to do, but the public does. It wants to slash the size of government in almost every way except public safety and education. Democrats and union bosses want to just demand higher taxes regardless of the consequences, and Jerry Brown is their man.

But the young teacher knows this inverted pyramid of tax-takers versus tax-makers cannot be sustained. Unless radical restructuring is undertaken soon, the collapse of the Golden State's public sector will be epic, and the promise of a long and productive professional life followed by a comfortable if not extravagant retirement will disappear, replaced by the harsh reality that the retired teachers and non-classroom personnel will have gotten theirs and that the present is very much being sacrificed to the excess of the past.

Which is why younger voters generally, and younger teachers specifically, have got to be looking long and hard at a vote for Meg Whitman in November, and at other Republicans up and down the ballot in California and across the country.

Pure self-interest is telegraphing urgent warnings to the common sense part of their brains, warnings that underscore the sky-high deficits run up by Democratic majorities in D.C., Sacramento, and wherever Democratic majorities gather.

President Obama carried the youth vote decisively in 2008, and Democrats have always had a strong hold on public school teachers. But rarely has the folly of Democratic excess been on display as it has been in the past 18 months.

The Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democrats and their state counterparts have been dining on the seed corn, running up bills that can only be paid by the taxes of people under 40 working until they are 80 and then retiring on 50 percent of what their older colleagues receive now, if that.

Grim reality is knocking on the door of the NEA and every state and local teachers' union. Young teachers should answer the knock, no matter what the retirees say. If new leadership for state houses in blue states like Whitman in California, John Kasich in Ohio, Bill Brady in Illinois, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania doesn't arrive soon, the cliff ahead cannot be avoided.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.

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