Here's one of the best ideas I've heard lately about making the downsizing in our schools more rational. Instead of laying off teachers to cut school budgets -- a process that targets younger teachers, because of union seniority rules -- it would be both smarter and more humane to offer buyouts to older teachers who are burned out or near retirement.
Matt Miller of the Center for American Progress -- he's also known as the host of the public radio program "Left, Right & Center" -- lays out the case for such an approach in this terrific piece in the Washington Post. His argument:
"The federal government should turn calamity into opportunity by putting a... pot of money on the table that districts can tap to offer buyouts to senior teachers. This is what a business would do to refresh its workforce and begin to pay down outsized pension obligations. A 20-year veteran can cost twice as much in salary as a newer teacher -- and three or four times as much once retirement benefits and pensions are factored in. If a district can offer, say, a year's pay as an incentive for an ineffective senior teacher to retire early, it can bring in (or save) several younger ones and come out ahead fast.
"Democrats should love the idea because it ensures that children in poor classrooms end up with better teachers. Republicans should love buyouts because they mean a farewell to senior teachers who are often staunch union loyalists and reactionaries, making room for younger talent interested in professionalizing teaching, rethinking archaic protections such as tenure, and bringing a culture of achievement to the classroom."
Where would the money come from? Miller suggests that leftover money from the famous (or infamous, depending on your politics) TARP, or Troubled Assets Relief Program could be used for teacher buyouts. Just as banks used the money to take troubled assets off their books, school districts could use TARP to get depreciating teacher assets off their balance sheets.