Entries in Deficits (2)


Teacher Tenure Under Fire as States Try to Cut Deficits

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It took the Los Angeles school district five years at a cost of $3.5 million to fire six teachers for poor performance, An investigation by a L.A. area weekly newspaper found.

In Washington, D.C., 75 teachers were dismissed for alleged incompetence in 2008. One teacher was let go for playing DVDs in class, another missed 20 days of work in two months. All ended up being reinstated by an arbitrator.

The story is similar in New York City where hundreds of teachers considered too inept to teach are kept out of classrooms, but continue to collect full salaries and benefits.

"The administration there has decided that it's actually harmful to children to have them in classrooms and yet the public is still responsible for continuing to pay full salary and benefits for these people year in and year out," said Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and Founder of StudentsFirst. "That's absolutely a waste of taxpayer dollars."

An even louder chorus of critics is attacking unionized public school teachers for their tenure and seniority rules, job protections that make it difficult to remove bad teachers.

On Thursday, the head of the largest national teachers union responded to the continued criticism by offering a major concession, a proposal to make it easier and faster to fire even tenured teachers who are not making the grade.

"Under the proposal, a teacher deemed 'unsatisfactory' would be required to submit to an improvement plan which could last anywhere from a month to a year," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "If administrators and peer experts thought the teacher had not improved, they would refer it to an arbitrator who would decide within 100 days to keep or dismiss the teacher."

Under the new proposal it would still take as long as 15 months to remove a teacher who's ultimately determined unfit to be in a classroom.

Many of the teacher's union protections have already been eroded and thousands of teachers are being fired as states and cities cut their budgets to close deficits.

In Providence, Rhode Island, all 1,900 teachers just received termination notices, ahead of what are expected to be massive layoffs. The city's mayor says state law will allow the dismissals outside of seniority rules.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Could Abolishing the Death Penalty Help States Save Money?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In 2003, Seattle resident Robert Kerr was abducted from his apartment and found dead 30 miles from his home, with his bank account emptied and without clothes or identification. At the end of 2010, the state of Washington has yet to arrest or convict anyone for his death.

While Kerr's killers have never been found, the state will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coming year on the death penalty for people already behind bars -- a situation that has reformers, and Kerr's family, clamoring for change.

Kerr's case is one of thousands of unsolved murders, and it's the reason his sister, Judy Kerr, supports her state, California, in abolishing the death penalty and reallocating the millions of dollars it spends on death row inmates each year to solving cold cases.

With so many states facing deficits, legislation on the death penalty has started to address the cost of the policy, while justification for it has traditionally focused on whether it's right or wrong.

California has a $25-billion deficit and almost 700 inmates on death row. According to a 2008 report issued by the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, maintaining the criminal justice system costs $137 million per year, but the cost would drop to $11.5 million if it weren't for the death penalty. A 2010 study from the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union found that California would be forced to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in the next five years if the state does not replace capital punishment with permanent imprisonment.

California is not the only state where cost has become an argument for abolishing the death penalty.

Last week, a commission report recommended to the New Hampshire legislature that the state not expand its death penalty, citing its higher costs as one of the reasons, and the same week a bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois passed in the state's House Judiciary Committee.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio