Opponents of school choice include school employee labor unions, government school associations, teachers, and politicians. They are discussed below.

School Employee Labor Unions

Polls show that school choice is popular with the majority of education "consumers," but it is not favored by school employee labor unions whose financial support in Michigan comes from compulsory unions dues paid by education "producers." Numerically, all choice advocates may be superior to their opponents, but the unions are well funded and organized. Among the most ardent adversaries of parental school choice are the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), who have fought against virtually every choice reform. In Michigan, the NEA and AFT's affiliates, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the Michigan Federation of Teachers (MFT), respectively, adamantly oppose market-based incentive reforms to the government education system.

Why do unions oppose a reform so obviously popular with many parents and teachers? A June 1999 study by the Mackinac Center, The Impact of School Choice on School Employee Labor Unions, found that unions have strong financial and political incentives to do so.119 The study showed that although 100 percent of traditional government schools teachers are unionized, the MEA and MFT have met with little success in organizing charter and private school teachers. The implications are that if more students migrate under a school choice plan to non-unionized schools, teaching jobs will be created in schools where teachers are resistant to joining or paying dues to a labor union. Such a scenario would represent a potential loss of tens of millions of dollars and a concomitant decrease in unions' political influence.

Unions oppose school choice not only with pointed rhetoric but also by spending large sums of money on lobbying and supporting political candidates. During the 1993-94 election cycle, the NEA contributed over $2.2 million to political candidates. In the 1995-96 elections, the NEA and AFT spent a combined $3.9 million on federal campaigns. On the state level, the MEA's $388,647 in campaign donations made it the number one contributor to officeholders and candidates in Michigan's 1996 elections. 121

One example of the unions' power to mobilize opposition to expanded parental choice occurred in California in 1993. The Parental Choice in Education Initiative (Proposition 174), was defeated in large part because of the pressure applied by seven state school employee unions and associations. The California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, California PTA, and other groups contributed more than $16 million to defeat the voucher initiative, dwarfing the $2.5 million spent by proponents once it was on the ballot. Total spending on television commercials by Proposition 174 advocates was $550,000, while the unions bought $6 million worth of air time. 122

Government School Associations

Government school associations include groups made up of principals, superintendents, administrators, school board members, and other groups that have allied themselves with those that have an institutional stake in the government's near-monopoly on education. The Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, and Michigan PTA all staunchly oppose expanded school choice for Michigan parents.

Also allied with these associations on the issue of school choice is the Michigan affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, which historically has defended citizens' civil rights against government encroachment. Alveda C. King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., has called school choice "the civil rights issue of the '90s," but the ACLU has chosen to actually oppose parents who need school choice to help remove their children from failing government schools.

Not all school associations necessarily oppose choice. In early 1999, the Michigan School Board Leaders Association was created to represent those in school leadership positions who believe that, "Parents are the ultimate guardians for their children's education," and "[c]hildren are more important than the system."123


Teachers who perceive school choice as either a threat to their job or believe it will harm government schools will oppose major changes to the current financial and political structure of school systems. Despite the fact that Michigan government school teachers are more likely to send their children to private schools than is the general public, some government school teachers, through their unions, can be expected to play a prominent role in opposing any ballot or legislative initiative to expand school choice.

This group also appears under "proponents of school choice."


A number of politicians owe their positions to the verbal support and financial backing of school employee labor unions and are therefore more inclined to support the unions' position on school choice.

This group also appears under "proponents of school choice."