As education reform proposals such as K-12 tuition vouchers and tax credits are debated across Michigan, it is important to assess how increased school choice will impact children, teachers, and others with a vested interest in education.
This Mackinac Center for Public Policy study examines the unionization rates of teachers in traditional government, charter, and private schools to determine how school choice might affect school employee labor unions, including the Michigan Education Association and the Michigan Federation of Teachers.
The findings of this study reveal that unions have powerful financial incentives to maintain the current barriers to school choice, including the Michigan constitutional ban on K-12 tuition vouchers and tax credits. Nearly 9 out of 10 school children attend public schools with unionized teachers. However, unions have been mostly unsuccessful in their attempts to organize teachers in charter and private schools, where few employees are willing to join a union or pay dues. To date, only 5 of Michigan's 139 charter schools are unionized and only 2 out of the 782 private schools surveyed were found to have unionized teachers (see chart).
School employee labor unions have traditionally opposed proposals to expand the number of charter schools or provide families with tuition tax credits or vouchers to help them afford alternatives to unionized government schools. To union officials, expanded school choice may mean a reduction in their organizations' income and political power as greater numbers of low- and middle-income families choose to send their children to charter and private schools with non-unionized workforces. Union officials likewise understand that if families are allowed to effectively choose from among an expanded array of alternative, non-unionized schools, so are dues-paying school employees.
This study shows that union officials have strong financial and political incentives to spend millions of dollars to prevent parents from simply being able to choose the safest and best schools for their children.