Which meant it was a very good week for the rest of us.
Last week, labor unions took a series of body blows. First, it was announced Monday that Missouri had become the 28th right-to-work state. The Show-Me State showed the unions that worker freedom now takes precedence over their forced dues racket. Not only that, but according to F. Vincent Vernuccio, Director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center, a pending bill, SB 210, would end release time – a scam that allows teachers and other public employees to conduct union business during working hours paid for by the taxpayer. Also, SB 210 would allow workers in Missouri to periodically recertify their union (or not), subject government unions to the same transparency requirements as private sector unions and establish the right to a private ballot in government union organizing elections.
Also on Monday, the Center for Individual Rights announced it was filing a lawsuit against the state of California and the California Teachers Association on behalf of eight teachers and the Association of American Educators. Yohn v. CTA is focused on forced “agency fees,” which unions use to finance their collective bargaining agenda. The plaintiffs argue that they have moral objections to the way the unions spend their money. As things stand now in non-right-to work states, all teachers are forced to financially support union policy concerning issues like school choice, tenure, seniority, etc. The lawsuit is similar to Friedrichs v CTA et al, filed by CIR in 2013, which was on its way to victory in SCOTUS. But Antonin Scalia’s sudden death just a year ago led to a 4-4 split, leaving the original law in place. CIR hopes to get the case back before the Supreme Court during the 2017-2018 session. If the plaintiffs are successful, joining a teachers – or any public employee – union or paying them any dues whatsoever would be voluntary.
CTA president Eric Heins responded to the new lawsuit by trotting out standard-issue pieties from the union playbook. He claimed the goal of the new case was to “weaken all unions and the voice of working people.” Heins is of course wrong. The case, if successful, will strengthen the voices of dissenting teachers while leaving the voices of other workers intact.
Then on Tuesday, the teachers unions and their fellow travelers descended into loopy-land. The spectacle after Betsy DeVos was narrowly confirmed as the new Secretary of Education was something to behold. What follows is a very small sample of comments emanating from the frothing naysayers:
- American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (apparently with a straight face) said it was “a sad day for children.”
- CTA president Eric Heins referred to the nomination as “a blow to our nation.”
- National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen Garcia was defiant, insisting that “There will be no relationship with Betsy DeVos.”
- Factually challenged film maker Michael Moore tweeted, “The Senate Republicans have just sent a big FU to the school children of America. Even the worst countries don’t sh*t on their own kids.”
- Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson, who apparently has been guzzling the Kool-Aid a bit too long, tweeted, “Betsy DeVos’s policies will kill children. That is not an exaggeration in any sense.”
- Speaking a day before her confirmation, Minnesota Senator Al Franken, pointed out DeVos’ lack of experience in the field, insisting that Education Secretary is “not a job for amateurs.” (Note to Franken: Since your main qualification for running for the Senate was being a comedian on “Saturday Night Live” – and not a very funny one – maybe you should lighten up on the sanctimony.)
The viciousness toward DeVos is animated by several things: She is rich, a school choice supporter, a Christian, a school choice supporter, a Republican, and most of all, a school choice supporter. As such her goal is to provide the best education for every child in the country, whether it is via a private school, home school, charter school or traditional public school. This drives the public school monopolists nuts. The turf they have occupied – the one-size-fits-all 19th Century children-as-widgets education model – is endangered. Typical is Maine Senator Susan Collins, one of two Republicans who voted against DeVos’ confirmation, “Her concentration on charter schools and vouchers, however, raises the question of whether or not she fully appreciates that the Secretary of Education’s primary focus must be on helping states and communities, parents, teachers, school board members, and administrators strengthen our public schools.” (Emphasis added.)
But Collins is wrong. The mission of the Dept. of Education is “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence throughout the nation.” Note that there is no mention at all of “public schools.” Its focus is on improving education outcomes. Period.
What the unhinged mob doesn’t understand – or at least won’t acknowledge – is that DeVos is not a dictator who will rule over a vast national education empire. In fact, the great majority of education policy and financing is handled at the state and local level. Fordham Institute president Mike Petrilli understands this and is correct when he makes the case that, “Actually, Betsy DeVos is perfectly qualified to be Education Secretary.” He points out that that DeVos’ job concerns itself with education politics and policy and to “work with members of Congress and governors, to understand how a bill becomes a law, to provide moral support to reformers as they fight it out in the states and at the local level. With her decades of involvement in politics, with policymakers, and in the trenches of the parental choice movement, DeVos is an inspired choice for the job….”
National Association of Scholars’ president Peter Wood suggests that being an outsider makes DeVos an especially good pick. “The strength of Secretary DeVos’s appointment is that she brings strong independent leadership to American education. She will not be steered by organized labor or by the higher education establishment. This means that we have the opportunity for real reform.”
While the teachers unions had a bad week, it was just the latest in a series of recent upsets for them. The NEA and AFT collectively gave over $36 million in the last election cycle to Super PACs – 100 percent of which went to Democrats. Yet after the voters weighed in, the U.S. wound up with a Republican president, Republican majorities in the Senate and House, 32 Republican dominated state legislatures and 33 Republican governors.
Dictatorial union ways are in decline. Right-to-work laws, teacher-freedom litigation and a Secretary of Education not beholden to the unions or any other special interest group will reap benefits for children, parents, teachers and taxpayers.
May the good times continue.
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.