Teachers unions must feel like the proverbial punching bag these days. Across the nation, a lot of state policymakers are attacking tenure, seniority, and collective bargaining rights and demonizing the unions as an obstacle to school reform.
How badly the unions are under fireand the potential consequences for local school boardsare the focus of the April ASBJ cover story.
Clearly it’s not the best of times for unions. For one, some governors are showing very little fear of the unions’ still-powerful political influence and sizable financial war chests.
No one has made that more clear than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who once claimed his state’s school reform efforts were being held hostage by “a selfish, self-interested, greedy union that cares more about putting money in their pockets and the pockets of their members than they care about educating our most vulnerable and needy children.”
Then, of course, there’s the recentand tumultuouslegislative fight in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to strip unions of collective-bargaining rights led to a walkout by Democratic lawmakers, noisy protests, and ultimately a temporary restraining order from a judge who wanted to sort out the messy legislative process that led to the law’s passage.
Against that backdrop, the April ASBJ attempts to explain how changes in the political arena, an increasing powerful charter industry, and copious amounts of foundation dollars are undermining the unions’ traditional influence in education policymaking.
The article also acknowledges that some school board members probably aren’t shedding any tears for the unions’ discomfortat least, not when some union contracts have made it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers or base layoffs on merit versus seniority.
But perhaps they shouldn’t be gleeful, either.
As it turns out, the unions are a powerful counterweight to political and business interests that are more interested in privatizing education than supporting a public school system.
And it is the unions that bear the brunt of any fight against state voucher initiatives or other harmful “school reform” proposals that would make school boards blanche. And it is unions that argue just as strenuously as state school boards associations about the harm of severe budget cuts in school spending.
So there are both pros and cons to the tough times facing teachers unions today. And a lot more is at stake for local school boards than you might imagine.
The fate of teachers unions might well play a role in the future of school boards. So keep an eye out for your April issue.
Del Stover, Senior Editor