Politics

Can Bipartisanship Actually Do Something Good, Like Smack Down Teachers' Unions?

|

Won't somebody think of the unions?

Teachers' unions took another publicity hit over the weekend as hundreds of mayors across the country announced their support for "parent trigger" laws. Reuters reports:

Hundreds of mayors from across the United States this weekend called for new laws letting parents seize control of low-performing public schools and fire the teachers, oust the administrators or turn the schools over to private management.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, meeting in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday unanimously endorsed "parent trigger" laws aimed at bypassing elected school boards and giving parents at the worst public schools the opportunity to band together and force immediate change.

Such laws are fiercely opposed by teachers' unions, which stand to lose members in school takeovers. Union leaders say there is no proof such upheaval will improve learning. And they argue that public investment in struggling communities, rather than private management of struggling schools, is the key to boosting student achievement.

The unions' intransigence in the matter is costing them Democratic support. Mayors Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento (of all places) support parent trigger efforts, creating a bipartisan effort that, for once, might retract the power of government rather than expand it.

Unfortunately, mayors don't necessarily have all that much power over what the school districts do. California already has a parent trigger law, but teachers' unions have managed to block efforts to use them in both Compton and Adelanto.

Change is in the air, maybe:

In Los Angeles, Mayor Villaraigosa blasted union leaders as an "unwavering roadblock to reform." In Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter has backed a plan to close dozens of neighborhood schools and convert many others to charters, which are publicly funded but privately run—and typically non-union.

And in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel successfully pushed to cancel a scheduled 4 percent raise for teachers and extend the school day by more than an hour. Teachers are so angry, nearly 90 percent of union members just voted to authorize a strike if ongoing contract negotiations falter.

"We are on the path to change," said Gloria Romero, a former California state senator who now runs that state's branch of Democrats for Education Reform, an advocacy group that funnels donations to politicians willing to buck the teachers unions. She called the mayoral vote a "landmark" that would inspire poor and minority parents to demand change in their schools. "This is a civil rights fight," she said.

In Chicago, teachers are demanding a 30 percent pay raise over two years in the face of a $700 million school deficit. As The Wall Street Journal reports: "The city's teachers are among the most well-paid in the nation, even though its school day is the shortest of any large school district in the country. The average teacher earns about $75,000, which is 50% more than the median Chicago family income."