Monday, May 31, 2010

Why the Post Hates MCEA

Once again, the Washington Post has unleashed a screaming tirade against the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) and other county employee unions. In its latest attack, the Post upholds Fairfax County as a model of good government because it prohibits collective bargaining for public employees and it calls on MoCo politicians to reject all public sector union contributions. And of course, MCEA gets special thrashing for its “outsized electoral clout.”

What accounts for this?

The Post’s basic argument, which it repeats over and over again with little new data to back it up, is that cowardly MoCo politicians are slaves of the teachers union and allowed the county’s budget to bloat because of excessive salaries. We rebutted that theory months ago by demonstrating that MoCo teacher salary increases were not out of line with other jurisdictions and that MoCo’s school budget was less dominated by compensation than the school budgets in Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Loudoun, Manassas and Prince William. The Post knows all this because they read this blog every single day and cherry-picked our data. And while public employee unions are unquestionably influential, they were clobbered this year and are badly divided. Nowhere in its editorial does the Post mention that many county employees are about to be furloughed and that MoCo teachers will now have to endure larger class sizes. The Post is not about to allow facts to interfere with its propaganda.

The real reason the Post hates MCEA and teacher unions across the country is simple: money. The Washington Post Company is not a newspaper. It is a multi-industry conglomerate dominated by its Kaplan Inc. subsidiary, which accounts for a majority of its revenues and employees. The Post newspaper lost $357 million in operating income over the last two years. Without profits from Kaplan, the newspaper might already be in bankruptcy.

Most people think of Kaplan as an education testing company. But in fact, it is a wide-ranging education firm that is continually expanding its services. One of its many business lines is private schooling. Kaplan operates Kaplan Academy, which it describes as “a flexible, results-oriented online high school” in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington. That is just one of several private Kaplan schools including:

Kaplan College Preparatory School: “A premium online school for students grades 6-12 with one-to-one college admissions and academic support.”

Kaplan High School: “A self-paced online high school for students grades 9-12 with flexible start dates. Available everywhere.”

Kaplan University High School: “A quality online education tailored to meet the demands of busy adult lifestyles.”

In addition, Kaplan Virtual Education (KVE) “partners with private schools, academies and service providers around the world to offer educational options to students.” It also “works with states, school districts, and other education providers to improve student achievement and increase graduation rates through alternatives to traditional high school… KVE can provide everything from supplemental online curriculum to comprehensive, certified instruction, administrative services, and technical support.” In its last annual report, the Washington Post Company wrote that KVE “operates charter and private virtual schools that offer online instruction to students in grades 6 through 12. KVE also provides instructors and curriculum and manages virtual schools for 19 school districts throughout the U.S. At year-end 2009, KVE was providing courses to approximately 3,850 students.”

That’s right, folks, the Washington Post Company is a direct competitor to public school teachers! Every time it writes an editorial promoting vouchers or charter schools or slamming teacher unions, it is using one part of its business (its newspaper) to promote another part of its business (Kaplan). And it is doing so without disclosing any of the above to its readers. None of this is an accident because of Kaplan’s critical importance to the Post Company’s bottom line. In 2009, Kaplan had positive operating income of $195 million, the most of any company subsidiary. The Post’s newspapers lost a combined $164 million.

In almost every article the Post writes about Facebook, it discloses the fact that Post owner Donald Graham is a member of Facebook’s Board of Directors. So what would happen if the Post began disclosing its operation of private schools in every article or editorial it writes about teacher unions? Why isn’t it doing so already?

Now we all know the answer to that.

Disclosure: Your author has worked for sixteen years in the labor movement, but never for any public employee union.