My Kids Have School Today: An Inequality Survey

The kids in the next town over don’t.  Indeed, the place where my Eldest Daughter’s swim team practices is closed because it’s a holiday, and their schools are.  But not here: the banks are closed, the government offices are closed, the local libraries are closed. (Heck, the New York Public Library is closed.)  But the schools are open.

For more than three years, the teachers worked without a contract.  While the Administration grew—and paid itself very well, taking an ever-increasing share of the budget—the teacher showed good faith.  They continued to negotiate, continued not to strike.  It wasn’t until the third year that they started cutting back on the extra effort they put in—things such as displaying children’s art projects in the hallways–.

Finally, two years ago, a contract agreement was reached.  One of the things no one bothered to specify—since the schools are public, and therefore a government institution—was that Federal and State holidays would not be school days.  The teachers might work some of them—teachers, as with most academics, do more work outside of the classroom (in preparation, in training, in research) than in it, so there might be a training day on some of the minor ones—but there would not be classes.  No Administration would be crazy enough to schedule classes on a Federal holiday, when many of the parents would have planned three-day weekends.

Except ours, to punish the teachers for having the temerity to negotiate for a contract, would do exactly that.  And it has for the past few years.

While taking my usual walk from Penn Station to Times Square, I saw more than the usual amount of tourists: a marginal effect of the holiday, as economists would note.  And that marginal effect is marginally reduced by the families whose children had to go to school today, even though their parents have the day off.  By the Law of Large Numbers, economists won’t even notice the difference—though individual stores and businesses might.

Columbus Day may be a minor Federal holiday. An NCIS “Undercover Marathon” on the USA network does not a unique celebration make.  And explaining why it is a holiday may become problematic. (“Well, white men with guns came here because like most men they were really lousy at asking for directions. And unlike the previous white men, they stayed, more or less.” is so much less doggerel or open to misinterpretation than “In 1493, Columbus sailed the Deep Blue Sea.”)  But explaining that the kids have to go to school, not the beach, because the superintendent wants to punish the teachers and the kids are collateral damage, well, that’s an economics lesson that will abide.

Especially when you tell them the punch line: Despite more than containing teacher expenses, the school budget has exploded for the past several years as more and more Administrators have been paid more and more money. And the result of this is that the Superintendent who is responsible for that got a five-year contract extension, bloating the budget even more, with even less of it allocated to children’s education (since the Superintendent is a Fixed Cost).

From there, explaining the growth of income inequality is at worst a lay-up.