Schools Are Not Social Service Centers

Imagine you got a lousy haircut and complained about it, and you got this response:

"Well, of course your haircut looks bad. What do you expect? You only paid us for a haircut. You didn't also give us enough money to provide you with all the other services you need to look your best. Next time, pay us triple the price, and we won't just give you a haircut, we'll also give you a manicure and a new set of clothes. Then your haircut will look great!"

Would you go back to that shop?

Believe it or not, that more or less sums up the big new marketing campaign the teachers' unions are using to try to lure you into giving them more money. It's actually called "Broader, Bolder." If you've ever seen a title that sounded more like a gimmick to sucker people out of their money, you've seen more marketing gimmicks than I have.

The argument runs like this: kids do better in school when they're well fed, healthy, and so forth. Therefore schools should be transformed into social-service centers that will not only teach students, but also provide health care and lots of other services. Schools would be open all day and provide a wide variety of community programs.

This will, of course, cost a ton of money and entail a huge expansion of the government educational bureaucracy. Which has nothing to do with why the unions want it.

My friends Matt Ladner and Jay Greene call this education reform by dorm-room bull session. They imagine the meetings to develop it sounded something like this:

"Like, kids need so much. We should totally provide them with everything they need."

"Yeah, like, there should be a health thing and a poverty thing and a food thing."

Some of the dreamy rhetoric being used to push this idea does suggest that kind of thinking (Randi Weingarten, teacher union president: "Imagine schools that are open all day ..."). But I think the meeting at teacher-union headquarters probably sounded more like this:

"School spending has been rising much faster than inflation for over fifty years. Historically, we've done a great job getting state legislatures to direct enormous geysers of money into the government school system, especially by hiring too many teachers, which puts lots of money into our pockets. And in the past, when people asked why our results were so lousy, we just told them we needed more money. But now that spending is over $10,000 per student, they're not swallowing that as much as they used to. Options?"

"We definitely need to do more to shift the blame for educational failure to something that's outside of schools' control."

"Agreed. But how can we do that in a way that continues to increase our budgets?"

"Well, we've always said we can't be expected to teach kids if they're poor, or sick, or have anything at all wrong with them, right? So let's tell them all social services should be brought into schools."

"Hey! Great idea! That way we can bring social workers, nurses, nutritionists, counselors and tons of other people into the teachers' union. We'll start calling ourselves the ‘community school services union.' We could triple the size of our membership overnight. I can buy that new boat I've had my eye on!"