Gov. Steve Sisolak, sworn in last week, has vowed to make education his top priority, as lawmakers prepare to reconvene in Carson City next month. He has yet, however, to offer any concrete proposals or explain how he would pay for them.
Meanwhile, teachers in Los Angeles walked off the job this week in an effort to win, among other things, large pay hikes and smaller classes. Perhaps the strike offers the governor a blueprint of what not to do in Nevada.
Lurking behind the scenes in Los Angeles are generous pension provisions that allow a teacher to retire at a relatively young age and collect an annual check for life along with generous health care benefits. Pension costs have soared in recent years, while enrollment in Los Angeles Unified has dropped as students flee the struggling district or turn to charters. Fewer students, in turn, mean less in per-pupil allocations from state taxpayers.
At the same time, unions are under increasing pressure to deliver results for their members. The Supreme Court’s Janus decision last year — which held that unions can’t force nonmembers to pay dues to cover collective bargaining — has hurt organized labor financially, and labor leaders need high-profile victories to stem declining membership.
But labor activism can’t change the laws of economics. And just like many of the students they purport to educate, L.A. union members seem to have flunked math. Pension and health care costs are increasingly crowding out other programs. And if the union demands are met, the district will be on the fast track to bankruptcy.
“Los Angeles is among the districts across California,” The Associated Press reported this week, “that are not well-positioned to manage the coming confluence of slower revenue growth, declining enrollment and rising pension contribution rates, according to a Moody’s study published in September.”
In a Wall Street Journal commentary on Tuesday, L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner noted the district’s current budget already calls for deficit spending and requires depleting reserve accounts. The teacher union wish list would cost the district an additional $3 billion over the next three years. “That would end one way,” he argued. “Bankruptcy and a state takeover of the school district, which would be catastrophic to everyone involved.”
Back in Nevada, Democrats have firm control in both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Sisolak will face intense pressure to hew to the union agenda and support a healthy boost in education spending while turning a blind eye to public pension reform. Let Los Angeles stand as a warning of the potential consequences of ignoring fiscal reality to appease insatiable public-sector unions in a one-party, collectivist state.