You have to give some grudging admiration to the teachers’ unions: in the cause of single-minded, unscrupulous protection of their turf, they will do whatever it takes to deny people free choice in education. They spent a bundle of money (obtained from members’ dues) to run an off-year referendum on the recently-passed Utah voucher program. And they won by a large majority.
Of course, off-year elections typically favor public employee unions, because general public participation is pathetically low, and the organized turn-out of union members becomes decisive. Never mind that the Utah voucher program was modest and specifically designed not to reduce state funding of public schools by even one nickel. No, the very idea of any competition to the public monopoly had to be destroyed.
In this the unions were helped, shamefully, by quite a few suburban voters, who often fear that allowing minority students free choice will mean – horrors! – that some may show up at those (relatively better) suburban public schools. This is a short-sighted self-interest, indeed.
Some libertarian commentators have drawn the conclusion that the Utah election was a welcome defeat, because it will hasten the day when all government involvement in schools will cease. Oh, please. The real meaning of the Utah vote is that the day when government gets out of schools has been put off to infinity. The teachers’ unions feel invincible.
As to the suggestion by some commentators that we should now support tax credits for parents who send their kids to private schools, well, while I enthusiastically support that idea, we need to be clear on two things.
First, the teachers’ unions and the educational establishment oppose tax credits or deductions for private school tuition no less than they oppose vouchers, and they have fought against them successfully.
Second, tax credits won’t touch the heart of the problem – that poor kids in failing public schools are stuck there. Giving parents a tax credit won’t help when their parents don’t earn enough to pay tuition or even file for taxes – unless the commentators envision a tax credit for people who don’t file taxes, which sounds suspiciously like a voucher by another name.
I favor continuing the fight. The teachers’ unions and the educrats need to win every state, every election, whereas we need to win in only one state, to start showing what can happen. And each election hits their coffers hard – telemarketing propaganda isn’t cheap.
But we need to be savvy. To begin with, we need to push for initiatives only during general elections, when the unions can’t game the system by getting their voters out while the vast majority sits still.
We also need to get real about enacting laws to stop unions from freely spending members’ dues to screw minority kids. Washington state just passed and upheld such an initiative; we need to start pushing those initiatives in all other states.
More importantly, we need to target the message to the parents of minority students (who already favor vouchers) that they need to get out and vote. And we have to make the case to suburban parents that self-interest needs to be enlightened. Letting kids rot in failing schools produces people who are at higher risk for government dependency and criminal behavior, and you and your kids will pay a price for that. If you let half the kids in failing schools drop out, you shouldn’t be surprised when jobs move to other countries where the educational system works, leaving your own kids out of luck.