Teachers' Unions vs. Schoolchildren

In “The NAACP vs. Black Schoolchildren,” Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn writes today about a clash in Harlem, which is relevant to public school funding fights here in Michigan. The dispute is over a lawsuit in which the teachers union and the NAACP are trying to shut down several low-income charter schools in New York City, in the process raising the ire of thousands of black parents and their school-age children.

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McGurn notes the different ways of looking at public education:

There are two ways to look at our big city public schools. The first way is to see them as institutions that give our children the tools they need to make their way in society. When the education is good, it is a great equalizer for those boys and girls without the advantages of wealth or social standing.

The second way to look at our big city public schools is this: as a vast jobs program for teachers.

He further observes, “Those who assume [that schools operate to best educate children] find it hard to understand why it is so difficult to fire bad teachers, pay the good ones more, or close down failing schools.” Those falling in the first category also have a hard time understanding why the [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] would team up with the New York City teachers’ union to file a lawsuit preventing charter schools for the worst-educated city children.

McGurn quotes David Hardy, chief executive officer for a charter school in another city: “Look, the issue should be educating children. Suppose somebody came up with a program that could educate a child without the intervention of teachers. If it worked, I’d be for it, even if it cost us some jobs.”

Earlier this year, at the start of the latest round of never-ending public school funding fights in Michigan, I wrote: “Michigan taxpayers do not have a duty to provide a ‘jobs bank’ to support union demands. State employee compensation has risen 46 percent over the past decade even as their numbers fell, costing taxpayers here an additional $800 million every year. Yet few would argue that services have improved 46 percent since 2001. The cost of local government and public school employees has also risen sharply, while there are fewer students and test scores have stagnated.”

In fact, Michigan taxpayers have increasingly paid more and more to public education with no discernible improvements for students.

McGurn concludes with a famous quote from former New York and national teacher union leader Albert Shanker, who famously declared, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

This is something for Michigan residents and all Americans need to remember as they watch the perennial school funding battles that pit taxpayers versus those entrenched school employee interests.