The Bloomberg Blues
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
We do not believe God is punishing Mayor Bloomberg for the hubris of twisting the law to seek a third term, but if the cataract of bad news that has befallen Hizzoner were the work of God, it would be just like Her. Certainly there is some sort of larger justice in the way his acts of mayoral arrogance come a cropper. Lately the mayor has been made a fool of by a storm named Irene and been exposed for dissembling, even if for the most decent of reasons, over the departure of Deputy Mayor Goldsmith. Now the New York Times is out with a poll saying most New Yorkers say the city’s school system has “stagnated or declined,” as the Times summarized it, since Mr. Bloomberg seized control nine years ago.
The answerers of the Times’ poll may be a bit harsh in suggesting the schools have actually declined. But the return on investment for the billions and billions in added spending of taxpayer dollars that has been lavished on the teachers and consultants and others who take money out of the school system, well, this return has to be some sort of record low. And a record tragedy. The mayor hired, in his chancellor, a great trust-buster. Then he made a strategic decision to hang back from busting the trust, which would have involved getting behind Milton Friedman’s idea of vouchers. Instead he assigned the trust-buster the job of repairing the trust.
He made a game effort. And we’re not actually against the United Federation of Teachers or its members — or even the principle of collective bargaining. We perceive how committed was the teachers’ one-time visionary, Al Shanker, and is, more recently, Randi Weingarten, who was the union boss here during much of Mr. Bloomberg’s mayoralty and who outmaneuvered him in the fight over money. But Ms. Weingarten made the same strategic error as the mayor, which is to speak in terms of the constituency of the schools being the children. The real constituency of the schools is not the children but their parents, who are their legal custodians and the best judges of what is good for them.
They are also the ones paying for the schools. Why should they be denied a choice of which — and which type of — school their children attend? We’ve been bowing this cello for years now. The mayor has always rebuffed the argument, on the rare occasions when he’s even acknowledged it, by saying that vouchers is just not a practical solution. Even were there a willingness in Albany to try vouchers, the argument goes, there aren’t enough private schools. We have long predicted that the minute parents were given a choice, private schools would sprout like flowers in the spring. Parents would have a cornucopia of choices.
The mayor spurned all this. He opened the door to charter schools, which are a fine addition to the mix of choices. But charter schools require such rigmarole that there are far too few of them. So when a great one opens its doors, thousands of parents clamor for the few spots available. We’re not, incidentally, immune from the arguments of, say, the educational sage Diane Ravitch, who reckons that charter schools have underperformed. But why not let the parents decide the options themselves? This would be enabled were money permitted to follow the choices of the parents via a system of vouchers.
The tragedy for the mayor is that he is now entering the downward slope of a third term that he was permitted to purchase in the face of two votes of the people to limit the mayoralty to two terms. He could have left office after two terms at the top of his game. His troubles — unhappiness with the schools, his misjudgments in the snow and the rain, the resentment at his assault on cars and restaurants — all stem from the conceit that the nanny state and its operators know better than New Yorkers what’s good for them. The latest poll by the New York Times is evidence that in respect of schools, New Yorkers are able to draw their own conclusions.