According to the state Department of Education, 193,488 Michigan students attended private schools in the 1997-98 school year, or less than 11 percent of the state's total student population.14 Eighty-seven percent of these private schools are sectarian; only 13 percent have no religious affiliation.
Unions have the same financial incentives to oppose private school choice as they do to oppose charter school choice: Only 2 out of 782 private schools have teachers bound by union collective bargaining agreements.
The largest representative organization of private schools in the state is the Michigan Association of Non-public Schools (MANS). MANS is a coalition of Catholic schools, Lutheran-Missouri Synod schools, and Christian Schools International. In total, MANS represents 540 schools with approximately 137,000 students.15
Glen Walstra, executive director of MANS, says that the unions' primary focus on issues related to compensation and terms and conditions of employment is incompatible with the mission of the 540 MANS schools. While teacher pay and job security are always of great concern, they are not enough to push teachers toward unionization, according to Walstra:
Unionism doesn't drive private education. Our people [teachers and administrators] have made up their minds that money is not the primary reason they do their jobs. Service to the child and the school are more important. They view their jobs as being a ministry.16
Students in most of these schools are being educated by religious organizations with centuries-old educational traditions. According to Walstra, at no time have teachers in MANS schools been organized by any modern labor unions.
The executive directors of four other private school associations representing a total of 197 schools also reported no unionized teachers in their schools.17 According to MFT officials, teachers in only two private schools have been successfully organized by their labor union. The MEA refused to provide information regarding its success in organizing private schools; however, a sampling of 45 schools with a potential for unionization revealed no MEA collective bargaining agreements in place.18
Union officials understand that organizing private school teachers is much more difficult than organizing traditional government school employees. Therefore, it is likely that labor unions will continue to oppose legislation and ballot initiatives that allow familiesand also teachersto have greater educational opportunities and freedom to choose private schools for their children.