By Bill Herbkersman || ‘NEA and its affiliates have been singled out because they are the most effective unions in the United States … they must never lose sight of the fact that they are unions, and what unions do first and foremost is represent their members.”
That statement from Bob Chanin, on his retirement a couple of years ago as general counsel for the National Education Association, certainly isn’t how folks in South Carolina want to think about the teachers at their local public school.
Chanin reminds us that public education unions are first and foremost advocates for adults, not for children. They pursue the economic and employment interests of school employees, even above the best interest of students.
It also explains why the NEA, the American Federation of Teachers, the National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators spend so much time and money fighting against reform in public schools. They fight change as students in other nations outperform American children by growing margins.
Their consistent cry is for more money and less oversight. That’s the best way to grow their ranks and increase their political power. Merely adding more money doesn’t increase student achievement, but the unions admit that’s not their primary goal. It has, on the other hand, led to greater support and subsidization of these organizations, which siphon dollars away from classrooms through dues, benefit management, paid consultants, contracting, political contributions and lobbying.
The same destructive trend is now playing out in South Carolina, a bastion of right-to-work protections. These unions, through their proxies that call themselves “affiliates,” “associations” or “professional organizations,” have initiated a vicious attack on private school-choice legislation that I am sponsoring. It’s based on demonstrated policies in other states, and would use tax credits to expand educational options to parents of all income levels. Lisa Keegan, former Arizona superintendent of schools and nationally acclaimed advocate for education reform, recently testified in Columbia that the proposal was a “best in class bill,” offering savings to taxpayers and matching the learning needs of each child with the strengths of different schools.
Molly Spearman, the president of the S.C. Association of School Administrators, didn’t like hearing that. She attacked the proposal in a recent column (“S.C. can’t afford fool’s gold of private school subsidies,” March 30). Her salary is funded through district-allocated membership dues and district service contracts. While the staff enjoys the generous medical, dental and retirement benefits traditionally limited to actual state employees, the association insists it is not a public body and does not disclose Spearman’s salary.
What is available is information on the political activities of these groups. The School Administrators Association and its peers in the so-called education lobby spent more than a quarter million dollars on direct lobbying in Columbia last year. That money could fund the salaries of five classroom teachers. They also spent thousands more on direct campaign contributions to political candidates and political action committees in the last several election cycles. Often, their activism and political talking points are taken up by local superintendents, who pass them on verbatim through district-wide emails.
Spearman’s attack is just the most recent in the education lobby’s fight against change. In recent years it has fought against the expansion of charter schools, merit pay for teachers, simplifying school report cards, toughening up testing standards and even proposals to help severely disabled children looking to transfer to non-public schools that offer intensive specialized services.
Spearman is a salaried staffer of the S.C. Association of School Administrators with a personal economic interest in the status quo. I’m disappointed to see her and other self-described “advocates for the children” spread half-truths and misperceptions about the private school-choice proposal. They talk of the evils of vouchers (not in the bill) and lack of testing requirements at independent schools (specifically mandated in the bill).
The gap between the reality and their rhetoric highlights their priorities: school employees before students. While that might not bother the likes of NEA’s Bob Chanin, it ought to sound an alarm with parents here in South Carolina.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Bill Herbkersman represents Beaufort County in the S.C. House of Representatives. To visit his website, click here.