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Democrats vs. Teacher Unions: The Battle Heats Up

In 2011, the marquee fight of education reform took place in Wisconsin, pitting a newly-elected Republican governor against powerful teachers unions and their allies in the State Senate. Yet while Republicans have been most associated with the  struggles against teacher’s unions, Democrats are fighting them too.

The latest example took place in Connecticut, where Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy’s moderate and sensible plans to ease restrictions on the hiring and firing of teachers and cut down on red tape in local school districts  hit strong opposition from union leaders.

In many ways, education reform is on the frontlines of the national rollback of the blue model. While the red vs. blue divide remains on many other hot-button issues, the need for education reforms that the unions don’t like has slowly become part of the bipartisan consensus.

The battle for education reforms like school choice keeps picking up powerful allies: inner-city parents, Democratic governors and even liberal, ultra-blue foundations are all coming to realize that the current system is unsustainable, and have added their voices to the call for reform.  Democrats are more moderate in their goals often than their Republican counterparts; Dems want to trim the unions’ wings and cut back on their perks while Republicans want to roast them on skewers and eat them for dinner.  But whether it’s a gentle decline or sudden termination, the teacher unions are losing control over the educational system.

The gradual reshaping of the American educational system looks set to accelerate, with Democrats and Republicans promoting complementary if rival visions. And education is just the first step: the inefficiencies and high costs of the current educational model are found in other parts of state, local and federal bureaucracies as well.

Change is coming.

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  • Mark Michael

    Gov. Bobby Jindal (Louisiana) has announced a sweeping educational reform for his state. It includes vouchers for up to 60% of the students statewide to use at various non-traditional schools, including private schools. It includes major changes to teacher evaluation, tenure rules, and makes it much easier for public schools to fire non-performing teachers.

    He plans to submit his proposal to the LA legislature in March when it resumes session. See:

    What happens to it in the legislature remains to be seen. Other states that have undertaken sweeping school choice changes, such as Utah which passed a statewide voucher program, saw the teachers unions manage to get it repealed by the voters in referenda.

    Indiana passed a more modest statewide K-12 school voucher program last year. About 4,000 students are using vouchers in 2011-12 to attend private schools in Indiana. Most of those 4,000 are in the larger cities: Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne, Gary, etc. A slower pace allows private schools to expand at a reasonable rate so they can maintain their standards.

    Ohio has 17,000 students using vouchers to attend private schools. Ohio’s program started in 2006 and slowly expanded also. They just raised the ceiling to 60,000 students. Going slowly allows a political constituency to build up that can lobby for more expansion in the state legislature over time. Ohio was considering a major expansion last year, but after seeing Senate Bill 5 get shot down in flames by the voters, I suspect the legislature will hold off for another year or two.

    Wisconsin voted to expansion their longstanding Milwaukee voucher program to allow Racine and another city (which escapes my mind right now) to also start voucher programs. They had planned to go statewide, but after the brouhaha over Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, they backed off and limited it to just those 3 cities.

  • Kenny

    To bad there can’t be a some type of celestial accounting done to determine the damage in stunted lives, economic opportunity lost, and waste of taxpayer money that the teachers unions have cost America.

    The cost has to be astronomical

  • Kris

    “the teacher unions are losing control over the educational system.”

    Inconceivable! Next thing you know, the civil service will lose control over government!

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “Republicans want to roast them on skewers and eat them for dinner.”
    Actually I want them deep fried in bacon fat, because everything is better with BACON!

  • Chris Hoey

    Two things that will move teacher disciplines along with more dispatch are: (1) Suspend the teachers WITHOUT pay. This would put pressure on their representatives to expedite the disposition of grievances. If the discipline turns out to be unfounded, a back pay award will make the teachers whole (as in most civil litigation); and (2) Provide for an unbiased source for the arbitration panels or arbitrator on a rotating basis, to avoid cronyism or intentional bias in the decision maker seeking more cases.

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