Stan Greer: Teacher union bosses get ‘A’ in electioneering, ‘F’ in education

This commentary is by Stan Greer, senior research associate for the National Institute for Labor Relations Research.

The 2022 elections are history. Thanksgiving has come and gone. But top teacher union bosses like Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT/AFL-CIO) and Becky Pringle of the National Education Association (NEA) are still basking in the glow of the re-election victories of some of their top gubernatorial allies.

They are, arguably, happiest of all about the win of rabidly pro-forced unionism New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who had faced a fierce public backlash for her willingness, again and again, to side with Big Labor against the parents of school-aged children.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

The fact that Ms. Hochul was able to stay in office despite the unpopularity of her actions does illustrate the extraordinary political clout government union kingpins wield because of their legal monopoly-bargaining privileges over millions of teachers and other public servants.

But November’s election results do not remotely show that AFT and NEA union propagandists have succeeded in fooling the parents of K-12-aged children living in states where government schools are Big Labor-dominated that those schools are doing a good job.

Instead, teacher union bosses have helped politicians like Kathy Hochul deflect the blame for the sad state of government education away from themselves.

Of course, the more parents are swayed to believe there is no political solution to the poor public education opportunities available for their children where they live, the greater impetus for them to move with their families to states where union monopolists are less powerful

And U.S. Census Bureau data show that is exactly what is happening in New York and many of the other states where the vast majority of teachers and other employees of K-12 government schools are subject to union monopoly-bargaining control.

In the aggregate, just over 58% of government employees were unionized in the third of states (counting Washington, D.C., as a “state”) with the highest public-sector union monopoly-bargaining density in 2020.  By comparison, just 30% and 17% of government employees were unionized in the middle and lowest tiers, respectively.

From July 1, 2020 through July 1, 2021, according to Census data, the population of school-aged children (five to 17 years-old) in the 17 highest government-union-density states plummeted by 240,000.  Meanwhile, in medium government-union-density states, the school-aged population fell by just 5,000. And in low government-union-density states, it grew by 32,000.

This represents a sharp acceleration of a long-term trend.  Parents of schoolkids have for years been voting with their feet in vast numbers against government-union-dominated states, resulting in an annual decline of roughly 60,000 from 2010 to 2020.

From 2020 to 2021, as the trend of parental “foot voting” against monopolistic unionism greatly intensified, New York alone endured a single-year decline of 51,000, or 1.7% of its K-12 school-aged population.  That puts the Empire State on track to see its primary and secondary school enrollment shrink by roughly 20% during the 2020s!

Parents obviously care more about their kids’ future than anyone else does.  And school enrollment data for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years show they continue to be deeply concerned about the substantial negative impact Big Labor control over education has on academic achievement and on students’ well-being generally.

Teacher union bosses could try to ameliorate parental dissatisfaction by agreeing to education reforms that would surely improve learning outcomes by rewarding teachers based on their unique skills and efforts.  Instead, Randi Weingarten, Becky Pringle, and their cohorts are doubling down on politics as their means of perpetuating the dismal status quo in American education.

During the 2021-22 election cycle, AFT and NEA union bosses dumped roughly $50 million in cash alone into political candidates and campaign committees.  While the final numbers are not in yet, it is already safe to say the hierarchies of the two national teacher unions spent additional hundreds of millions of dollars in 2021-22 on electioneering, lobbying, and contributions to other ideological groups.

Fortunately, in Right to Work states like Florida and Georgia, where the share of educators and other public servants who are subject to union monopoly control is relatively modest, teacher union bosses still do not control all the political shots.

But for the time being it seems many fed-up parents in New York will continue to believe their least-bad option for their kids is to take them out of state!

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