Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Go Big Ed is taking a look this week at ways we can improve K-12 education and save money. A biggie would be to do what it takes to transform the National Education Association and its state and local affiliates back into what they started off as, and should be: a purely professional association for teachers.

Nebraskans should be glad that we’re a Right to Work state, with protections against forced unionism. But here’s a heads up on that: there are two Legislative Bills pending right now that would damage the rights of nonunion workers, including in schools. They have to do with paying the teachers’ unions “agency shop fees.” They need to be opposed, bigtime.

See the February newsletter of the National Right to Work Committee,
www.nrtw.org/nl/nl-200502p7.pdf Basically, the two bills would force a nonunion employee in a setting like a school to pay the union to bargain and handle any grievances, instead of being able to pay for his or her own representation. That’s a stickup by the teachers’ union! Contact your senator to oppose LB 230 proposed by State Sen. Pam Redfield (who’s otherwise a fantastic representative, and must have her reasons on this one), and LB 354 from Sen. Don Priester.

How did we get to this point, where that kind of stuff is going on, instead of everybody working together on the 3 R’s, better school lunches, and longer recesses? Answer: the NEA.

The NEA, with an estimated 2.6 million members and revenues of $1.25 billion a year, is a relatively new, ultra-powerful union. It’s a toxic anachronism, in this day when hardly any other line of work is still unionized. Teachers never used to have collective bargaining, but when the Big Unions backed John F. Kennedy for President in 1960, he rewarded them with an Executive Order allowing union representation for that huge workgroup in America, our teachers.

What has been the result of the unionization of education? Consider this recent Wall Street Journal letter to the editor from Ken Powell of Munster, Ind.:

“The truth is, as teachers unions came to dominate public education over the past 40 years, the results have been bad for students and taxpayers alike. Consider these sobering statistics: since 1960, despite a threefold increase in inflation-adjusted spending, SAT scores have fallen 73 points and the percentage of 12th graders capable of college math to an abysmal 6%. During this time, however, school payrolls swelled: the number of teachers rose 57%, principals and administrators 79%, and non-teaching staff an eye-popping 500%.”

Collective bargaining is anti-American in the school setting, because it amounts to setting public policy outside of the public’s influence. It’s a no-win situation for parents and taxpayers, since the people on both sides of the bargaining table are educators whose pockets will be lined, the more overspending and overstaffing take place.

Though collective bargaining is incompatible with the nature and mission of K-12 education, union restrictions on wages and working conditions are responsible for a significant portion of the increased cost of schooling today, and for many of the problems and woes that school boards, parents and taxpayers are tangling with.

Here are some common-sense steps we could take to at least slow down the union’s stranglehold on our schools, if not bust it entirely:

Q. I think teachers would actually be better paid if we could get rid of the unions. They tend to institutionalize mediocrity both in teaching and in teacher pay. I don’t want to see picket lines or union officials dragged out of their classrooms in handcuffs! But how could we encourage more education workers to quit the union and end their sovereignty over public education?

-- Repeal your state bargaining statute.

-- Pass “no strings attached” school-choice legislation.

-- Publicize the growth and attractive qualities of nonunion alternatives that offer liability insurance and so forth: the Association of American Educators (

-- Quit letting unions get free collection of union dues through automatic payroll deductions. Make them collect their own dues themselves and have their members “opt in” instead of being forced in, like every other organization has to do.

-- Publish school-district salaries and the teachers’ contract on a website so that taxpayers and parents in your district can see all the benefits and perquisites that union members are getting. How can the need for a union still be justified?

-- Urge your school board to hire the toughest labor law firm in the region to represent your district at the bargaining table instead of district employees and the local law firm they control.

--Urge your school board to adopt hiring bonuses, pay supplements for hard-to-find teaching specialties, merit pay, and bonuses based on test-score improvements.

-- Urge your school board to contract out and privatize as much non-instructional spending as possible.

-- Call for a state and federal audit of teacher union tax returns to see if they are misidentifying what is actually political spending as being “education-related.”

-- Donate to private scholarship funds to help more families get their kids into private schools.

-- Donate to legal defense groups battling the unions to improve K-12 schools, including Landmark Legal Foundation, Evergreen Freedom Foundation and the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation.

Homework: Book, “The Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education” by Peter Brimelow, and the Education Intelligence Agency,

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