Richard Iannuzzi: As to Babies and Bathwater

Dec 19, 2013

Tales from medieval times tell us that water was stored in barrels for bathing.  The male head of the household — most likely a farmer or tradesman — would bathe first.  He would be followed by his wife and their many children, in order of their birth.

By the time the last child entered the bath, the water would be brown and carry a strong odor — leading to the wise proverb and good all-around advice:  “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

When you consider the missteps with Obamacare, the Common Core and even the state’s property tax cap it would appear that this proverb and its common-sense wisdom are needed today.

Most Americans agree that having good, affordable health insurance is essential.  Without health insurance, families are vulnerable in the event of a catastrophic illness or accident.  And, it’s only fair that insurance companies shouldn’t be able to deny coverage to the sick and elderly because of a pre-existing condition.

The Affordable Care Act solves many of these problems and promises to provide health insurance at a lower cost to millions of those currently uninsured.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s rollout of the Affordable Care Act was plagued by problems, tripped up by misunderstandings, miscommunications and a web site that simply did not work.  In hyper-partisan Washington, these stumbles threaten to unravel what is perhaps the President’s signature domestic achievement.

But, if Obamacare can deliver affordable, accessible healthcare for all, and I strongly believe it will, we shouldn’t repeal it because of missteps or a faulty website.

In a similar situation, parents and educators are justifiably outraged by the state’s severely flawed rollout of the Common Core learning standards.  I believe the Common Core has the potential — if done right — to raise standards and, over time, improve student achievement.

“If done right” is the key phrase.

School boards, superintendents, teachers and parents are all calling on the state to slow down, make the course corrections that are so badly needed, and get it right.  With adequate time, professional development and resources for students and teachers, the Common Core may help raise student achievement.  It would be a mistake if the state’s rushed timeline and failed implementation plan derailed what could be a promising educational reform.  It’s why state lawmakers should support a three-year moratorium on the high-stakes consequences to allow for the necessary course corrections.

And then there’s the tax cap.

Let’s face it, high property taxes present a burden for many families.  New York State is right in trying to control property tax increases.  But, the way the governor and Legislature have gone about it is all wrong:  The tax cap, as currently structured, locks in inequalities in school funding and exacerbates them over time.  It insures that those students who have the least, get less — and those who attend school in wealthy communities get more.

The Governor and Legislature must try to find ways to control property taxes, but in ways that will fund schools more equitably, so that every child has an opportunity to get a great public school education.

In the end, it’s all about doing what’s right and making the necessary changes in order to achieve a positive outcome whether its affordable health care, balancing property taxes with the need to invest in education, or providing time to implement the Common Core correctly.

If the water’s bad then change it—but let’s save the baby. 

Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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