The "anti-teacher" argument against school choice seems to assume that the government school system is nothing more than a big jobs program with education ranking second in importance. School choice makes the education of children the top priority by allowing parents to choose the best school for their children. There is nothing inherently anti-teacher about choice: Many government school teachers themselves choose to place their children in private schools. As long as demand for education exists, there will always be jobs for teachers.
More choices for parents also mean more choices for teachers. Today, if a teacher believes he or she is underpaid, overburdened by red tape, not respected as a professional, or otherwise treated poorly by administrators, the only real option is to leave town and move to another school district. This is because the same employer, the school district, operates nearly all the schools in the area.161 When parents are allowed to choose, schools will not only have to compete for students, they will have to compete for teachers, too. As a result, there will be increased pressure on school administrators to treat teachers well or risk losing them to other schools.
Teachers who work in schools-of-choice are more satisfied. According to a July 1996 report from U. S. Department of Education, 36.2 percent of private school teachers were "highly satisfied" at work while only 11.2 percent of government school teachers could say the same thing.162 In a separate study done by the Washington, D. C.-based Hudson Institute, only two percent of 920 private school teachers surveyed said they would be willing to leave their current job for a higher-paying job in the local urban government school system. Most private school teachers experience a higher job satisfaction rate than do public school teachers because they have more freedom to teach, student discipline is greater, they enjoy a more collegial work atmosphere, and parental involvement is higher. 163
Many teachers support and exercise school choice for their children. The 1990 census found that significant numbers of teachers choose alternative government or private schools for their children. Whereas only 27 percent of all families in Grand Rapids choose private schools for their children, 41 percent of government school teachers in the city make that choice for their children. In Detroit, the statistics are similar: 33 percent of government school teachers choose private schools, but only 17 percent of all families do so. Michigan is one of only 14 states where government school teachers choose private schools for their children at a greater rate than the general population. 164
Labor unions that argue against school choice do not necessarily represent either the interests of either children or education. Perhaps the strongest reason for unions to oppose school choice is their financial self-interest. Unions stand to lose millions of dollars of dues income as school choice grows. Why? One hundred percent of Michigan government schools are unionized, but only 3.6 percent of charter schools and 0.2 percent of private schools are unionized.165 If enrollment increases at schools where unions have been unable to gain a foothold, that will create more teaching jobs in nonunion schools where teachers are not forced to financially support a union. The purpose of school employee labor unions is to bargain wages and terms and conditions of employment for its dues-paying members. Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers union, once candidly remarked, "When school children start paying union dues, that's when I'll start representing the interests of school children."166 It is a mistake to assume that the best interests of labor unions are necessarily the same as those of parents and students.
Many school employee unions in other countries support school choice. The majority of foreign school employee unions support parental school choice, according to a recent study. Out of 48 unions expressing a stand, only 23 percent strongly opposed choice opportunities. In Australia, a voucher system provides private schools-of-choice with up to 85 percent of government education dollars when parents choose them over the government system, and the vouchers have not destroyed the public system.167 In Denmark, a spokeswoman for the Danish Union of Teachers stated that, "Our choice system has been in operation for a period of over 30 years, and we have a strong public education system. We view the public schools and the private schools as working together." 168