BLOG: School Choice is the Antidote to Teacher Union Hypocrisy

If someone were to read the public statements from the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) but pay no mind to the actions taken by either union, that person would be fooled into thinking the unions really want what’s best for students and teachers.

These unions claim to be “anti-racist,” yet they trap low-income minority kids in failing schools. Parents of color overwhelmingly want school choice: In the past year, more than 60% of Black and Latino parents considered sending their children to a school other than their government-assigned one. The unions refuse to get out of the way of families who are desperate for better educational options.

AFT President Randi Weingarten claims to have been on the side of reopening schools, but her union pushed for prolonged closures at every turn. Unions pretend to represent their members, but the NEA spends more money on lobbying for leftist political causes than actually representing the teachers whose hard-earned dollars keep the union running.

Union leaders claim to want politics out of classrooms, yet they infuse their politics into collective bargaining agreements so that big-city school districts have no choice but to use race-based hiring policies, spend taxpayer money on “culturally-responsive teaching” and “social-emotional learning,” and create rules that tie teachers’ hands on issues of school discipline.

Teacher unions claim public schools are the best choice for all students, and thus should be the only choice. On its face, this makes no sense: If something is the best option, it need not fear competition. But we have all seen the abysmal test scores; there is no denying that public education is broken, and families need more options.

Parents, and taxpayers more broadly, have had enough of the union obstruction and political posturing. Power over how America’s students are educated belongs with families and local communities, not with bureaucrats and certainly not the ideologically-driven unions. Governors and legislators are waking up to this, and school choice is unfurling across the country: Lawmakers in Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, Utah, and Texas are making school choice a priority this session.

The federal government has a role to play here, too, in giving parents more options. Congress should dismantle the Department of Education and send Federal education dollars directly to the states in the form of block grants. The Department of Education has had more than 40 years to fix education and close the achievement gap between our nation’s lowest perfomers and highest achievers. Yes, after billions of dollars spent, it has failed in its mission.  If Washington got out of the way and sent all of that Federal money directly to states, and better yet, families, to find the right education option for their kids, America’s students would be much better off.

But, it doesn’t stop there. School choice creates the most positive change for students when it is paired with transparency around curriculum, spending and academic performance. Parents deserve the power to make an informed choice, and that power comes in the form of information about their options. House Republicans have proposed legislation to require all public schools to post their curricula online for parents to read. This would be a meaningful step forward, but states and districts can and should go even further.

In an ideal world, every decision in a school should be made based on what is best for students. With teacher unions in control of education, decisions are made based on what will give the union more power. Teacher unions position themselves as morally upright defenders of education as a common good. Nothing could be further from the truth.