Slow Learners

Florida debates the value of its teachers.

This article originally appeared in the National Review on April 20, 2001 at

By Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR associate editor

One would have to go back nearly half a century, to the political turbulence over desegregation, for another moment so shameful to Florida; for another example of legislation so profoundly vindictive and unconstitutional."

That's the St. Petersburg Times editorializing. But they're not caterwauling over the Florida supreme court's maneuvers last fall to hand the presidential election to Al Gore. The threat to democracy of which they speak? A bill passed by the Florida house of representatives last week that would prohibit the state's teachers' union from recklessly spending members' dues on political lobbying.

The paycheck-protection bill passed by a house committee last Thursday is unlikely to pass the senate, if it ever even makes it to a full house vote. Rhetoric the likes of which graced the St. Petersburg Times, of course, doesn't help.

The Times also singled out the Michigan think tank, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in the editorial as "anti-union," for its assistance in shaping the Florida legislation and efforts in other states, most notably Michigan, where paycheck protection passed in 1994 — one of six states with such a law in place.

The Petersburg Times calls paycheck protection punishment, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1988 Communication Workers v. Beck decision, called it a right. The right of union workers to know where their money is going — and, specifically, to be asked before their dues money is spent on lobbying, and to get a refund if they want one.

But while the Florida teachers' unions may have the local press entranced, there may be reason to believe that others are slowly coming around. In December, while delivering his retirement speech, Ohio Education Association Executive Director Robert Barkley asked his colleagues, "What would we really do differently if we really did listen to our members? First, we would very rarely, if ever again, give a cent to a politician or a political party."

Sounds like an idea whose time has come.