Schools are supposed to be about kids—organized with the best interests of children in mind. But in Louisiana, and all across America, that isn’t what happens. Powerful teacher unions and the union bosses dictate education policy, block reforms they don’t like and the needs of the kids aren’t even on the agenda.
The first teacher’s unions were focused on raising teacher salaries, child labor laws and discrimination against female teachers.1 But in the 1960s, states began to adopt laws that allowed collective bargaining for public employees and by the 1980s most public school districts had been unionized.2
Unfortunately, over time, the focus of the unions shifted to preserving the status quo. On the school level that means protecting teachers with restrictive tenure policies. Time on the job is more important than how you do your job. Union bosses fight against policies to reward the best teachers in favor of keeping ineffective teachers in place.3
The status quo mentality spills over into politics too. The teacher unions exert enormous power on the political process to thwart reform and halt change through staggering donations of campaign cash. Political contributions hit a high in 2016 of $33.2 million.4 In fact, the National Education Association (NEA) contributed $0 to Republicans and conservative causes in 2014.5 These numbers are inflated because teachers are forced to pay their union dues, even if they don’t support the union.6 Public school teachers also say mandatory dues violate their First Amendment rights because unions spend the teachers’ money to support political causes with which the teachers don’t agree.7 This gives them the power to directly influence public policy and change or block the direction of our schools.
Both local and national unions contributed heavily to Governor John Bel Edwards and super PACs associated with his campaign, including $100,000 from the American Federation of Teachers.8
Our governor is a friend of the teacher unions and he doesn’t try to hide it. “I get painted as a person who is close to teachers unions,” said Governor Edwards, while appearing on stage with a leader of the NEA. “I’m not going to distance myself.” And Debbie Meaux, President of the Louisiana Association of Educators said, ”It’s not every day that education can say we have a champion in the Governor’s Mansion, but today we certainly do.” Some might find this chummy relationship heartwarming, but parents should be concerned.
Governor Edwards has spoken publicly about his opposition to many of the existing education reforms and his desires mirror those of the teacher unions-to roll back reforms through his policies.
The governor is firmly aligned with Louisiana’s two teacher unions, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Association of Educators, which have long blasted charter schools, vouchers, letter grades for public schools and a wide range of other public school changes enacted in recent years.9
Parents have begun to see the results of the Edwards/union alliance:
- The governor’s task force has recommended dropping letter grades for public schools10 -a reform that helps parents judge the effectiveness of their school and making the schools more accountable.
- Despite promises Edwards made about the school voucher program during his campaign, he has put a proposal on the table that would slash funding for the scholarship program and leave nearly 1,000 students looking for someplace else to go to school.11
Parents are upset that Governor Edwards has broken his promise and are responding angrily to the proposed cut. A commercial aired featuring three moms with children enrolled in private schools that participate in the scholarship program. One of them says pointblank, Governor Edwards “lied to me, he lied to my child.”12
Year after year Louisiana ranks at or near the bottom in national education studies.13 Can we afford to roll back reforms and listen to unions instead of teachers? Most parents would say no.