Teacher unions’ resistance to re-opening schools is self-serving
The United States Postal Service (USPS) was recently in the news and it’s the same old story with an added political twist: USPS is running a deficit, which has become an election issue between Democrats and President Trump.
There is a much more immediate concern than the delivery of mail, which has been proceeding without interruption throughout the pandemic. It is the delivery of education to children, which should be the priority of Democrats and Republicans in Washington, above another bailout of the Post Office.
The national teacher unions, however, have other agendas, among which do not include the education and betterment of children. That’s nothing new. The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association exist to serve the interests of adults, not children. Nonetheless, the brazenness of the unions’ political play has sunk to new depths in three ways.
First, the teacher unions are playing for an unprecedented federal money grab. The unions and other public school groups requested $200 billion in funding to address the pandemic. While the case can be made for additional federal education support in this public health crisis, the unions’ demand is a pure shakedown.
One area of near agreement in Washington is to spend billions of dollars more on education, though not at the level sought by the unions. Senate Republicans proposed more than $60 billion for K-12 public education (plus $7 billion for non-governmental schools, including parochial) while House Democrats proposed just under $60 billion in their “HEROS Act.”
Sixty billion dollars buys a lot of plastic screens, test kits, cleaning products, PPE and even added rental space and buses to ensure social distancing for every public and private school in America. Rather than secure this ready funding, the unions appear to be gambling for more in the event President Trump loses in the November election. Meanwhile, no federal money is forthcoming and many schools will not open. The predictable outcome is that children’s education and well-being will further suffer.
Second, many unions want schools to remain closed. Their stated position is no in-person learning until compliance with scientific guidelines, without which they are threatening to strike. Nonetheless, thousands of elementary and secondary schools throughout the country are forging ahead to open under a myriad of operational adjustments based on guidelines from the Center for Disease Control to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Science and data,” which so many politicians incessantly invoke to justify pandemic-related orders, argue that schools should re-open. Studies show, for example, that children are not vulnerable to coronavirus, and will not die from infection but for an underlying health condition. To date, just over 100 children have died from Covid-related causes, far fewer than the last year’s pediatric death toll from influenza. In fact, children in large cities like Chicago are tragically more susceptible to dying from gunfire. More broadly, children are at greater risk in multiple ways the longer schools remain closed.
We can be thankful that police, firefighters, medical, postal and grocery workers, and those in a slew of other essential professions eschewed the position of many teachers—who are no less essential in society—even though schools are safer than grocery stores. Would that more of them thought so, starting with their union leaders.
Finally, schools forced to remain closed to in-person learning, such as is being perpetrated in California, is another way to snuff out the teachers unions’ competition: non-governmental schools, particularly those that serve children from middle-income, working class and families in poverty. “Elite” private schools that serve mostly wealthy families will survive. But most private schools do not fall in that category and are more economically vulnerable to the pandemic-induced closure and economic downturn.
Non-wealthy families with children in non-governmental schools make the financial sacrifice for the most suitable education—in most cases, religious—for their children. Losing a job and income puts that ability in jeopardy. At least 113 non-governmental schools, most of which are Catholic, have announced permanent closure, and dozens more are likely the longer the pandemic and congressional funding stalemate persists.
That outcome may be perfectly swell for the AFT and NEA, since fewer private schools means higher public school enrollment and more dues-paying teachers. But the same outcome also means higher taxes on state income and local property taxpayers, less educational choice and diversity, and diminished religious freedom, especially in the case of so many Catholic school closures.
Last month the U.S. House of Representatives approved billions of taxpayer dollars for the Post Office, which has remained open and operating. Congress should instead deal with a larger, more pressing issue: helping children return to school.
Public, private and parochial schools can and should re-open safely for the good of teachers, taxpayers and, most importantly, for children – if the politicians let them.
Peter Murphy is Vice President of the Invest in Education Coalition (@PeterMurphy2