John Daniel Davidson
It’s not enough that public school teachers and the college professors who train them are increasingly prone to teaching leftist absurdities like “2+2=5” or presenting the mendacious 1619 Project as legitimate American history. Teachers unions are now trying to blackmail the entire country into meeting a set of leftist political demands for reopening the schools this fall, using COVID-19 as their excuse.
Of course, the pandemic certainly presents challenges for re-opening schools, but other sectors of society have managed to rise to the occasion over the past several months to keep the country running. Grocery stores clerks, truck drivers, warehouse workers, and of course police, firefighters, doctors, and nurses—all have kept working, sometimes under tough conditions and sometimes at great personal risk.
Then there are teachers unions. More than any other group during this pandemic, teachers unions have shown themselves to be abjectly selfish, hyper-political, and totally intransigent about teaching during the pandemic. They are willing to lie about the science behind COVID-19 transmission and shamelessly stoke fear to advance their partisan agenda. Just about the last thing these unions seem to care about is educating children or helping the country get back on its feet.
On Monday, an alliance of teachers unions and leftist groups in dozens of states staged a “National Day of Resistance,” issuing a series of demands that they say must be met before their members will return to the classroom. What do they want? Rents and mortgages canceled, a “massive infusion of federal money” from “taxing billionaires and Wall Street,” moratoriums on new charter schools and voucher programs and standardized tests, and of course “police-free schools,” among other things.
Some teachers unions have gone a step further. In New York City, one group is demanding teachers not be required to return to school until a minimum of 14 days have passed after any new COVID-19 cases, claiming their lives are at risk if schools open (despite evidence to the contrary in Europe and Asia). During protests Monday, hundreds of NYC teachers marched with handmade coffins and a guillotine, chanting wording to slogans like “children can’t learn if they’re dead.”
Elsewhere in the country, it’s more of the same. In Massachusetts, the state’s second-largest teachers union is demanding remote-only instruction. In Austin, Texas, the teachers union has issued a lengthy list of demands including no in-person instruction until mid-November at least, a guarantee of full pay with no layoffs or furloughs, and all employees having the right to refuse to return to work if they feel unsafe. Earlier this month, a large teachers union in Los Angeles demanded everything listed above as well as things the city’s school district has no power to do, like the passage of Medicare for All, a California wealth tax, a federal bailout of the school district, and defunding the local police.
Beyond these nakedly political demands, many unions want their teachers to get paid for not working. According to a report last week in The New York Times, some unions are trying to limit the amount of time teachers have to spend teaching online each day, all while getting paid in full.
All this amounts to political blackmail. The teachers unions know that millions of parents can’t afford to stay home from work to educate their kids, nor can many afford private school or private tutors. They think they have leverage—and in many places they do, if only because city and state elected officials are unwilling to stand up to them.
What all this presents, for leaders willing to see it, is an opportunity to bust the teachers unions and give power to parents and families. Instead of acceding to the unions’ outrageous demands—many of which have nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with politics—elected officials, either at the state or local level, could issue vouchers to families and let them decide how best to educate their children this fall.
Specifically, they could create education savings accounts, which simply give parents a savings account dedicated to their kids’ education. The state deposits the child’s public education dollars into the account and parents can use it for various things like online classes, a private tutor, private school tuition, whatever. Especially during the pandemic, it’s a nimble way to help people fit their child’s education to specific local circumstances.
This idea isn’t new but it does have new urgency given the extortion scheme teacher unions are running. It’s especially important that parents of underprivileged and special-needs students—who have fared the most poorly with remote learning—be given a chance to find in-person instruction for their kids.
Those who claim to care about such students should be forced to choose a side. Do lawmakers care more about appeasing teachers unions or ensuring our kids get an education? We’re about to find out.