“When schoolchildren start paying union dues, I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”
— Longtime AFT and UFT President Albert Shanker
Education Minnesota has a history of hyper-partisan rancor and solely supporting Democrats for political office. With that established, the teachers’ union opened July by announcing endorsements of more than 80 candidates this year at the federal and state level. All are Democrats.
Joe Biden, who they’ll no doubt endorse for president soon, already said his administration would make the Department Education “teacher centered.” Students, I guess, don’t matter.
Education Minnesota represents nearly 100,000 voices across the state, and as a former teacher, I can assure you a decent percentage don’t embrace progressive politics, yet conservative, libertarian, moderate and apolitical teachers are muted every year.
While only Education Minnesota’s Political Action Committee can directly contribute to political candidates, they also fund highly-political activities like get-out-the-vote drives, public marketing campaigns and of course, lobbying at the state legislature.
According to its most recent federal filing, Education Minnesota spent over $2.6 million of teachers’ union dues on “political activities and lobbying,” which is separate from the union’s PAC expenditures (over $5 million in 2018). Union dues are also spent on union salaries. Nearly half of the union’s “employees” take more than $100,000 annually. None of this helps our students.
As we continue to wait for school reopening plans to unfold (teachers have been on paid vacation for months, and Gov. Walz inexplicably wants to extend that), the national teachers’ unions are repeating their banal call for increased education spending, despite billions in extra aid already available. They even suggested they’re ready to “keep schools shuttered if lawmakers don’t pony up.”
Earlier this summer, superintendents from dozens of large school districts demanded $200 billion in additional aid, warning that if they don’t receive the money “dark clouds are forming on the educational horizon.”
And the narrative that America’s schools are underfunded? A total myth.
The latest U.S. education spending numbers amount to nearly a trillion dollars per annum, or more than $15,000 per student, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
America leads the world in everything from charitable giving and military might to medical innovation and natural gas production, yet an intellectually honest observer sees we fall short in schooling despite massive taxpayer funds. In the wealthiest nation on earth, this is troubling. And the shortcomings are not about money, or the results would have improved long ago. It’s not about how much money is spent and but how it’s spent. I’ve been writing about these topics for nearly two decades.
The average student in Singapore is four years ahead of their U.S. counterpart; children in countries from Estonia and Finland to New Zealand and Norway consistently outperform the U.S., despite spending less per pupil. Countries that spend less per student than we do managed to reopen schools recently, with health safety measures in place, while our fancy facilities sit vacant month after month.
Are there alternatives? Yes, right here.
Minnesota is the birthplace of the charter school movement, beginning almost 30 years ago. Our state now has 165 charter schools serving nearly 60,000 students. Scholars and sentient politicians have long deemed these semi-autonomous initiatives as the “civil rights issue” of our time because they help poor and minority students the unions discard. Like homeschooling, which continues to grow in popularity, charter schools scare the crap out of teachers’ unions because they break up their status quo monopoly.
It’s a start, as is getting information to the public about the browbeating, graft and dishonesty of teachers’ unions — in Minnesota and beyond.