Teacher’s Unions: The Enemy Of Education

Reading Brad and Eric’s posts on education earlier today brought to mind this post I wrote recently:

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a piece cataloging the ways in which teachers unions in Florida and Wisconsin are acting to prevent any efforts to reform education in a way that will actually help students.

First in Wisconsin:

Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program, enacted with bipartisan support in 1990, provides private school vouchers to students from families at or below 175% of the poverty line. Its constitutionality has been supported by rulings from both the Wisconsin and U.S. Supreme Courts.

Yet [Wisconsin Governor Jim] Doyle, a union-financed Democrat, has vetoed three attempts to loosen the state law that limits enrollment in the program to 15% of Milwaukee’s public school enrollment. This cap, put in place in 1995 as part of a compromise with anti-choice lawmakers backed by the unions, wasn’t an issue when only a handful of schools were participating. But the program has grown steadily to include 127 schools and more than 14,000 students today. Wisconsin officials expect the voucher program to exceed the 15% threshold next year, which means Mr. Doyle’s schoolhouse-door act is about to have real consequences.

“Had the cap been in effect this year,” says Susan Mitchell of School Choice Wisconsin, “as many as 4,000 students already in the program would have lost seats. No new students could come in, and there would be dozens of schools that have been built because of school choice in Milwaukee that would close. They’re in poor neighborhoods and would never have enough support from tuition-paying parents or donors to keep going.”

In other words, Governor Doyle is fine with forcing poor students in Milwaukee to stay in underperforming, sometimes dangerous, public schools in order to placate his NEA supporters. Given the clearly beneficial results that the school choice program has had, this is scandalous:

A 2004 study of high school graduation rates by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute found that students using vouchers to attend Milwaukee’s private schools had a graduation rate of 64%, versus 36% for their public school counterparts. Harvard’s Caroline Hoxby has shown that Milwaukee public schools have raised their standards in the wake of voucher competition.(emphasis added)

In other words, school choice has had precisely the impact that its supporters predicted it would. Its made education better at all levels. The fact that the Governor and the teachers union would even think of being opposed to expanding this program demonstrates, quite plainly, that they don’t care about improving education. They care about preserving their power, and school choice is a threat to their power base.

Meanwhile, in Florida:

The unions scored a separate “victory” in Florida three weeks ago when the state supreme court there struck down the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Passed in 1999, the program currently enrolls 700 children from chronically failing state schools, letting them transfer to another public school or use state money to attend a private school. Barring some legislative damage control, the 5-2 ruling means these kids face the horrible prospect of returning to the state’s education hellholes next year.

The decision is a textbook case of results-oriented jurisprudence. The majority claimed the program violates a provision of Florida’s constitution that requires the state to provide for “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.” Because “private schools that are not ‘uniform’ when compared with each other or the public system” could receive state funds under the program, the majority deemed it unconstitutional.

And thanks to a teachers union who thought nothing of using its vast funds to bankroll this lawsuit, the students of Florida are victimized once again.

The Journal’s closing paragraph says it best:

What the Milwaukee and Florida examples show is that unions and their allies are unwilling to let even successful voucher experiments continue to exist. If they lose one court case, they will sue again–and then again, as long as it takes. And they’ll shop their campaign cash around for years until they find a politician like Jim Doyle willing to sell out Wisconsin’s poorest kids in return for their endorsement. Is there a more destructive force in American public life?

When it comes to education, I can’t think of one.

This was originally published at Below The Beltway in January and titled Teacher’s Unions Don’t Care About The Grade

Previous Posts On This Topic:

Covering Up A Failing Grade
Handing Out A Failing Grade

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  • http://wheresyourbrain.blogspot.com/ JustaDog

    Totally agree! Actually I posted on the topic of education as well this morning. If only parents would be more demanding I believe these unions can be ousted!

    Great post!

  • http://unrepentantindividual.com/ Brad Warbiany

    It’s very simple. Teachers unions like the status quo, because the status quo is the locus of their power.

    They’ll fight to the death to keep their hands on the levers.