Schooled Reporting on education

Giving teachers a right to choose

Education | Education reform advocates cheer the Supreme Court’s ruling on unions
by Leigh Jones
Posted 7/04/18, 10:02 am

School choice advocates are celebrating the final ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court this term, a decision that prevents public sector unions from collecting fees from nonmembers. What do unions have to do with school choice?

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, founder and president of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, puts it this way: The court’s decision provides parents, educators, and reformers the opportunity “to overcome two of the biggest obstacles to transforming education in America: the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.”

Those organizations, the NEA and the AFT, are the two largest teachers unions in the country, and analysts expect them to take a significant hit in membership—and, therefore, funding—as a result of last week’s ruling. Less money means less political influence. And less political influence means less opposition to school choice efforts.

“This is good news for the nation, for thousands of educators who have long been exploited by the teachers unions, and for families whose educational opportunities have been compromised by their political activity,” wrote Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform. “When it comes to education, the most fundamental of all policies that shape our futures, no longer can the union compel people to support activities and positions regardless of principle.”

The NEA gets only about 3 percent of its budget from fees collected from nonmembers. The fees are supposed to cover collective bargaining costs, since all employees theoretically benefit from contract negotiations. They cannot be used to pay for political activities. But any membership dues revenue the union doesn’t have to spend on collective bargaining can go to lobbying or backing political candidates union leaders support.

While losing those nonmember fees won’t hurt the unions much, analysts believe a significant group of union members will drop out of the organizations when they are no longer forced to contribute. Because dues often don’t cost much more than the fees, at least some teachers opt to become members to get the extra benefits. But if they don’t have to pay anything, many won’t.

Two states, Michigan and Wisconsin, recently passed laws preventing unions from collecting dues from nonmembers. As a result, in Wisconsin, the state NEA affiliate lost about half its members. The Michigan chapter lost 21 percent of its members in the three years after the change. If unions see similar losses across the rest of the country, that will put a significant dent in their revenue stream. A survey of NEA members suggested the loss could be even higher: When asked whether they would stop paying fees if they could, 57 percent said they would. If they hadn’t had any contact with the union for several years, that number jumped to 69 percent.

Both the NEA and the AFT have long fought against all school choice measures and have lobbied Democrats to toe their line. Derrell Bradford, executive director of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, suggests Democratic politicians may feel more free to support education reforms that don’t involve traditional public schools: “Now, with the deep pockets of the teachers unions potentially compromised, maybe accepting underperforming schools and ironclad work rules in return for campaign cash doesn’t have to be the default position anymore. Our kids and our families should be so lucky.”

And they may get some support from teachers, who don’t all share the unions’ disdain for school choice options. Educators who work for charter and private schools have the same devotion to their profession as their colleagues in traditional public school classrooms. Now they have a chance to have their voices heard.

“The bottom line is the Supreme Court’s decision will not end teachers unions, but it will provide the freedom for every teacher to decide whom they support and how they want to be represented,” Bush wrote. “Ironically, the NEA and AFT, long hostile to the principles of choice and competition, will have to earn their members by demonstrating they are working in their best interests.”

YouTube/Anti-Defamation League YouTube/Anti-Defamation League An example of a white supremacist flyer

White supremacist messages spike on college campuses

White supremacists are spreading propaganda on college campuses at a growing rate, according to a report released last Thursday.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organization that reports on anti-Semitism and bigotry, reported 478 total incidents of white supremacist propaganda since September 2016. That’s a 77 percent increase in the 2017-2018 academic year over the previous year.

The propaganda—flyers, banners, and posters—often sought to recruit students and contained messages targeting minority groups or veiled references to white supremacist ideas, symbols, and mottos.

The ADL recorded incidents on 216 campuses in 44 states and the Distrcit of Columbia, as well as 185 incidents of off-campus propaganda distribution.

ADL senior investigative researcher Carla Hill said the groups used cloaked references like “Blood and Soil,” “Keep America American,” or “Stop the Caravan” to appeal to students who might not know the ugly underbelly of these movements.

“They realize that for the movement to grow they have to reach young minds,” Hill said.

To record incidents, the ADL monitors third-party complaints, media reports, and social media and website posts from white supremacy groups. The latest report comes after a year of incidents such as the Portland, Ore., stabbing on a train in May 2017, when a white supremacist killed two men after shouting anti-Muslim slurs, and the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, when a man drove his car into protesters, killing one woman.

“They will continue to come up with ways to appear mainstream and patriotic and to make their message sanitized,” Hill said. “They constantly evolve to find ways to get this hate message out.” —Harvest Prude

Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster The Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

Affirmative action after Kennedy

Several weeks ago I wrote about the lawsuit filed by Asian-American students against Harvard University. The new vacancy on the Supreme Court gives the case added significance: Opponents of affirmative action hope a newly configured court with a conservative majority will put an end to racial preference in college admissions.

As he did in so many cases, retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the deciding vote in the last Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action. In 2016’s Fisher v. University of Texas, the court ruled the University of Texas could consider race as part of its admissions process. But it warned that other schools might be forced to change their practice under different circumstances, especially if affirmative action did not offer the only way to ensure diversity on campus.

That ruling left the door wide open for another challenge, and a new justice could lead to a very different outcome.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Tuesday reversed Obama-era guidelines on affirmative action, with the Justice Department rescinding seven policy guidances from the Education Department’s civil rights division and restoring Bush-era policies of race-neutral admissions. —L.J.

Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster Associated Press/Photo by Carolyn Kaster The FBI Building in Washington, D.C.

Common threads

FBI officials released a myth-shattering study of active shooters following a June 20 summit about preventing school violence. Only 1 in 4 of the shooters in the study had been diagnosed with a mental illness. All but five purchased their weapon legally, and more than half revealed their plans either to someone or on the internet before the attack. Most had planned the attack for at least a week, some for months in advance. 

Last week’s report was a follow-up to a 2014 study of how to identify a shooter before an attack.

“When concerning behavior was observed by others, the most common response was to communicate directly to the active shooter (83 percent) or do nothing (54 perecent),” the FBI reported. Even when warning signs were reported, knowing how to prevent crimes from occurring proved difficult.

“We can’t allow ourselves to become numb to it,” said Joshua Skule, FBI executive assistant director for intelligence. “We just cannot think that this is an acceptable way to live our lives, and so however this topic stays at the forefront so that folks continue to talk about it … is critical to mitigating the threat.” —Charissa Crotts

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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