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ALEC, ISTA and Indiana

The teachers unions continue to pound the anti-ALEC drum, this year in the Hoosier State.

The American Legislative Exchange Council is an organization of state legislators, business leaders and other concerned Americans dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism. In the education sphere, ALEC holds that parents should be in charge of their children’s education by allowing them to have choices – charter schools, voucher programs, tax credit scholarships, education savings accounts, etc. – that would “allow each child the opportunity to reach his or her potential.” Furthermore, ALEC believes that workers should not be subjected to forced unionism.

Of course the nation’s teachers unions paint ALEC as a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad organization. In the National Education Association’s pantheon-of-evil, ALEC dwells alongside its most loathed: Rebecca Friedrichs, Scott Walker and the Koch Brothers. In a barrage of anti-ALEC webpages from NEA, we learn, among many other things, that the group favors education privatization so that greedy corporate types can make bundles from little Johnny and Janie, while learning their ABCs. (Just how the schools are somehow supposed to turn into corporate cash cows is not addressed.)

Teacher union activists have come to picket ALEC’s yearly meetings with a self-righteous fervor that makes the true believers glow with pride. Last July in San Diego, Barbara Dawson, a middle school history and English teacher, proudly proclaimed, “They (those attending the ALEC conference) couldn’t have missed it. We were beating drums, yelling and chanting in front of the hotel.”

Yeah, nothing like beating drums and yelling to advance your cause. That’ll learn the capitalist bastards! In a more sober moment, Helen Farias, a local union leader from the Sweetwater Education Association intoned, “The types of legislation ALEC promotes will create a two-tiered educational system, one for the privileged and one for the rest of us.”

Of course, Ms. Farias has it exactly backwards. We already have a two-tiered system, whereby rich people can afford to send their kids to private schools, but due to the Big Government-Big Union duopoly, not-so-rich folks don’t have that option in most places.

Last week, the yearly ALEC meeting was held in Indianapolis, and the unions got a “four-fer.” Not only did the faithful get a chance to express their displeasure with ALEC, they got to do it in a state that has an extensive voucher program as well as tax-credit scholarships. Additionally, Indiana houses EdChoice (formerly known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), the preeminent school choice outfit in the country. But wait, there’s more! The Hoosier State is also home to Republican Party vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence, who is an ardent school choicer.

This year’s union festivities included a twitter storm and a march (braving the heat!) by Indiana State Teachers Association members and sympathizers to the Marriott where the ALEC meeting was being held. The union also issued a special invitation. “While supplies last, we will give two free game tickets (to a minor league baseball game), food vouchers and t-shirts to ISTA members who register early.” The event, held on “Public Education Night” was a tepid affair where partying seemed to be the highest priority. Best of all, Indianans were spared the drum circle at all the protests.

But on a serious note, please keep in mind that while it was the ISTA bosses who bribed their members to come out and protest, the goodies were paid for by union members themselves. Worse, according to David Wolkins, an Indiana legislator, former teacher and public sector co-chair for ALEC, in addition to the swag, ISTA used Craigslist to hire civilians to show up and protest ALEC, paying them $30 a day.

Then there was an opinion piece in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette last week in which Wolkins reminded us of the hideous and criminal mismanagement by ISTA of its members’ insurance fund. As Mike Antonucci reported in December 2013, “The state of Indiana finalized a settlement with the Indiana State Teachers Association (ISTA) in which the union will pay $14 million to 27 school districts. The settlement arose from an estimated $23 million the ISTA insurance trust owed those districts for misuse of their premiums.”

Also, ISTA has been busy in the Indiana State House this year, where it successfully managed to kill House Bill 1004 which among other things, which would have allowed school districts to pay teachers more money in shortage areas without having to consult the local teachers union.

So as ALEC continues to fight for taxpayers, parents and kids, ISTA – as all teachers unions do – looks to preserve its power and influence…at the expense of taxpayers, parents and kids.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The Enemies of Choice

The teachers unions’ fight against parental and teacher choice is not going well for them.

Teacher union membership is dwindling. In fact, it has dipped below 50 percent nationwide, down from a high of almost 70 percent in 1993. Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana, having  become “right-to-work” (RTW) states over the past several years, have given teacher freedom a big boost. Wisconsin, which also limits teachers’ collective bargaining activities via Act 10, has seen its National Education Association affiliate’s numbers cut by more than half. Prior to the legislation, the Wisconsin Education Association Council had approximately 100,000 members. It now has fewer than 40,000, according to the MacIiver Institute.

In Michigan, the teachers unions have lost 20 percent of their membership since becoming a RTW state in 2012, but this number will grow. Many unions, sensing the inevitability of RTW legislation in the Wolverine State, signed long-term contacts with their school districts. However, once those contracts expire, more teachers will be liberated from paying forced union dues. But as Michigan Capitol Confidential’s Tom Gantert points out, the RTW law is just one reason for the drop in union participation. He writes, “There also has been steady growth in the number of Michigan public charter schools. Hardly any charters are unionized.”

Nationally, the NEA has also seen its numbers dwindle; its membership is down more than 9 percent over the last four years. This includes a 7.5 percent decline in the number of classroom teachers, which is one reason why the union’s dues revenue has declined since 2011.

Of course freedom from forced unionism could greatly accelerate in 2016 courtesy of the Friedrichs v California Teachers Association case. If the litigants are victorious, no teacher – or public employee – in the country will be forced to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment. With oral arguments in just 13 days, the ruling will be finalized in six months.

In addition to losing members, the unions are also losing the PR battle. According to a recent Education Next poll, fifty percent of all teachers think that forced dues payment is wrong, while 38 percent support it. (The general public is 43-34 percent in favor of choice.) Interestingly, the same poll shows that while 57 of teachers think that unions “have a positive effect on schools,” just 30 percent of the general public thinks so.)

As the unions battle teachers over forced dues payments, their efforts are equally fierce against a parent’s right to choose the best school for their children. Other than an unfavorable ruling in Friedrichs, the worst nightmare for the unions is giving parents choices – charter schools, and worse, vouchers, tax credit scholarships and educational savings accounts. And the unions are not doing well on that count either. A national poll conducted earlier this year shows that nearly 70 percent of Americans support school choice. (The two battles are interrelated: As teachers leave their unions, there is less money for the unions to spend on fighting choice bills in state legislatures. And more private choice options translate to fewer unionized teachers.)

There are now 6,700 charter schools serving nearly 3 million students in 43 states and D.C. As for private sector choice, there are now 56 different programs operating in 28 states. In 2000-2001, there were just 29,000 students in these programs, but by 2014-2015, that number had grown over 12-fold to 354,000. In light of the fact that parents take advantage of the private option when available, their kids perform better in these choice programs and they save the taxpayers money, the unions can’t put up much of a reasoned argument.

Indeed, desperation is setting in.

Frequently unions use kids as human shields to couch their opposition to privatization. But one union boss had a unique (if ridiculous) take on it recently. When asked about a Fordham Institute study on America’s Best and Worst Cities for School Choice that ranked Atlanta as the ninth most “choice-friendly” city, Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, responded, “That’s like saying Chicago is the most murder-friendly city in the nation.”

The new year looms large for choice. With a Friedrichs decision due in June, teacher and parental choice could get an enormous boost. And no one will be murdered because of it. The self-serving teachers unions’ bottom line will suffer some serious body trauma, however.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.