Allowing parents more freedom to choose the schools their children attend threatens the political and financial interests of Michigan's two largest school employee unions, according to a study released by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
The Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the Michigan Federation of Teachers (MFT) have been largely unable to organize employees in private and charter schools, which are likely to see increases in student enrollment and education jobs if school choice measures are expanded, said Center Associate Director of Education Policy Matthew Brouillette.
"Every child enrolled in a Michigan private or charter school helps create a non-dues-paying teaching job in a non-unionized school," wrote Brouillette and study co-author Jeffrey Williams, an adjunct scholar with the Center. "This may be why school employee labor unions so strenuously oppose the expansion of school choice in the state."
Current school choice efforts in Michigan include a recommendation to lift the cap on the number of charter schools and a possible ballot initiative that would remove the state constitution's prohibition against tuition vouchers and tax credits.
The MEA and MFT have strong incentives to preserve the status quo in education, according to Brouillette and Williams. "The financial strength and political influence of school employee labor unions is directly related to their ability to acquire and retain dues-paying members."
To date, all of Michigan's 583 public school districts have unionized teachers, but only 5 of 139 charter schools and 2 of more than 1,000 private schools are unionized.
The analysts say school choice challenges union dominance in education. "Union political operatives are involved at all levels of school governance and finance," they write. "The loss of members represents a loss of financial and political power."
This fact "provides a clue to union support for the current barriers to school choice," concluded Brouillette and Williams. They add it is likely that "unions will continue to oppose legislation and ballot initiatives that seek to provide families- and also teachers- with greater educational opportunities and freedom to choose safer and better schools for their children."
The study, The Impact of School Choice on School Employee Labor Unions, is available by calling the Mackinac Center for Public Policy at (989) 631-0900 or at no charge via the Internet at www.mackinac.org/article.asp?ID=1926.