Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Teachers Unions on School Choice: “Intellectually Bankrupt”

The National Education Association is funnelling millions of dollars through its Utah affiliate to make sure that the state’s revolutionary new school choice initiative never sees the light of day. The Parent Choice in Education Act would allow parents with children in public schools to apply a voucher worth as much as $3,000 towards the cost of a child’s private schooling; the public schools left behind would still receive the same per-pupil funding as before, but with fewer students to spend it on.

With a sharply written column in today’s Washington Post, George Will pinpointed the reasons why teachers unions can’t stand this kind of proposal:

Intellectually bankrupt but flush with cash, the teachers unions continue to push their threadbare arguments, undeterred by the fact that Utah’s vouchers will increase per-pupil spending and will lower class sizes in public schools. Why the perverse perseverance? There are two large, banal reasons — fear of competition and desire for the maximum number of dues-paying public school teachers.

For just such a threadbare argument against school choice, look no further than Tuesday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association president Dennis Oulahan wrote:

School reform experiments that revolve around principles of “choice” or “competition” only create a competition for too few resources. Why would we treat our children like lab rats and put them in the position where they must compete with one another for a great education?

It’s actually schools that are supposed to compete with each other, not children. But presumably Oulahan means that school choice causes children to “compete” in that when one kid leaves a government-run school for a public charter school or a private, voucher-supported school, his funding follows him out of the original school district’s budget. Even when this happens (it doesn’t always; as in Utah, choice programs often “hold harmless” shrinking government-run schools so that their budgets don’t shrink), it’s not clear that the choice-user’s former schoolmates suffer, since the fear of losing pupils and funding to school choice can actually incite public schools to improve.

Categories: Teachers Unions