Editor’s note: This commentary is by Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.
American parents, schoolchildren and other citizens have just witnessed what is probably the most graphic public display ever of the inordinate clout union bosses wield over how our nation’s government schools are run. And parents and schoolchildren are clearly not happy about what they have seen.
By last summer, the evidence was overwhelming that K-12 school-aged children are at almost zero risk of serious harm from COVID-19. It was also well-established that schools are not drivers of community spread of the COVID-19 virus, and that children themselves are not “superspreaders.”
Moreover, it was already clear that the school lockdowns initiated in the spring of 2020 as a radical COVID-19 countermeasure were inflicting substantial psychological and academic harm on vast numbers of schoolchildren.
Yet for months and months after all the above facts were apparent, national, state and local teacher union bosses fought bitterly to block the resumption of full-time, face-to-face instruction of schoolchildren in the classroom. And in a number of states where Big Labor monopoly bargaining over teachers’ terms and conditions of employment is mandated by law, they succeeded in keeping most schools shuttered for most of the 2020-21 academic year.
Many unhappy parents have already responded by refusing to enroll their children in unionized government schools, or by withdrawing them. Nationwide, public school kindergarten enrollment for the 2020-21 academic year was 16% below what it had been in 2019-20. A Gallup survey of parents conducted in August 2020 found that 76% had enrolled their K-12 children in government schools for the upcoming academic year, compared to 83% the year before. The share of children who are homeschooled nearly doubled, reaching 10%.
Subsequent official reports by state and local education authorities largely bear out Gallup’s findings. This April, for example, the New Jersey Department of Education acknowledged that public school enrollment had fallen by over 41,000, or 3%, from the fall of 2019 to the fall of 2020. And many, if not most, of the kids who withdrew from public schools over the past year won’t ever return.
Logically, declining enrollment would mean a declining number of jobs for K-12 educators.
But that hasn’t been the case for a long time, and apparently it won’t be over the next couple of years, either. The reason is a monstrous $1.9 trillion spending bill signed into law on March 11 by union-label President Joe Biden. Roughly $200 billion of this Big Labor bailout scheme will go to overwhelmingly unionized government schools.
The best available data show fewer public school employees nationwide resigned or retired in 2020 than in 2019, the last full pre-COVID year. But union bosses in state after state are now loudly demanding that school officials use their bailout money to hire vast numbers of additional teachers and support employees to make up for a spurious “wave” of COVID-19 resignations and retirements.
Assuming union bosses get what they want, an ongoing taxpayer rip-off will only get worse. From the 2009-10 through the 2019-20 school years, according to National Education Association (NEA) union bosses’ own data, the number of K-12 classroom teachers in government schools increased by 4.6%, even as student enrollment and average daily attendance fell by 0.5% and 1.1%, respectively.
As a consequence of laws on the books in well over 30 states authorizing and promoting union monopoly-bargaining control over public educators’ terms and conditions of employment, padding government school payrolls almost inevitably means piling on to the dues coffers of the mammoth NEA and American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) unions, as well as the treasuries of their state and local subsidiaries.
The bottom line is, courtesy of President Biden and the Big Labor Democrat House and Senate majorities respectively headed by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the teacher union empire is about to get even more wealthy and powerful, even though over the course of the past year millions of additional parents and schoolchildren have voted with their feet against NEA and AFT bosses.