National Education Association
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Securities and Exchange Commission is examining the for-profit business practices of Florida’s teacher unions and their for-profit business partners.
The Journal reported recently that teacher union leaders are pushing teachers to purchase retirement investments from union-owned, for-profit companies that charge unusually high management fees. These higher fees are increasing the unions’ profits at the expense of teachers’ retirement funds.
The Journal writes: “The setup is one of an array of similar deals in which unions and other groups get income from endorsements of investment products and services — often at the expense of teachers … The ties help explain why many local-government workers continue to pay relatively high retirement-plan costs, while fees in corporate-based retirement plans are often lower and have been falling for years.”
I was first informed about the for-profit business ventures of teacher unions when I became a local union president in 1978. I had questions, but I was 22, and my mentors assured me our profits benefited our members and the union. Forty years later I still use a credit card that is managed by a for-profit joint venture involving the National Education Association (NEA), MasterCard, and Bank of America, even though I haven’t been an NEA member since 1997.
Given how critical teacher unions often are of for-profit businesses operating in public education, it’s ironic that these same unions operate a variety of for-profit businesses themselves. But the unions are selective in their criticisms. They only criticize for-profit businesses they perceive as competition, such as the small number of for-profit charter schools that aren’t unionized. For-profit contractors, bus companies, furniture vendors, teacher training providers and hardware and software companies, among others, are fine.
I do not object to teacher unions, or anyone else, operating for-profit businesses in public education. Without profit there would be no credit. Without credit there would be no scalable innovation. And without scalable innovation, we’d all be living in caves.
I also don’t object to teacher unions using their influence with the Democratic Party and the media to maximize their profits, provided it’s done legally and with transparency. All multimillion-dollar corporations, including teacher unions, work the media and lobby government to enact policies that advantage their businesses. I do object to teacher unions promoting their business interests in ways that hurt our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. While the SEC is investigating the legality of the unions’ business practices, my concern is with the morality of their business practices.
In Florida, teacher unions have used their profits to help fund lobbying and lawsuits to take away education options from our state’s highest-poverty, lowest-performing students. Their goal is to protect their market share and revenue even though these actions hurt disadvantaged children and are inconsistent with the values of most teachers. Instead of attacking our most vulnerable children, teacher unions need a new business model that allows them to find common ground with these children and their families.
The future of public education is customization. Soon every child will have access to a customized education. Teacher unions need a business model that aligns with and supports customization. They will go out of business if they continue insisting that public education can only take place in government-managed schools covered by one-size-fits-all collective bargaining agreements. This 1970s model of public education, and the early 1900s model of industrial unionism that accompanies it, doesn’t work for many children and is going away.
There is a positive role for teacher unions in public education if they will adopt a new unionism that puts people above profits and empowers teachers and families to have more control over how each child is educated.
Public support for education choice continues to surge as some presidential candidates swim upstream
While the reasons for Democratic presidential candidate and leading anti-charter stalwart Elizabeth Warren’s nearly 13-point polling plummet are multifaceted, a recent public confrontation with school choice supporters and the revelation that she sent her son to a $17,000-a-year private school likely contributed to the decline.
Warren’s strong anti-school choice stance probably isn’t working in her favor if education choice polls are any indication. A RealClear Opinion Research survey conducted this fall reported that 68 percent of Americans now support the concept of school choice.
The poll, sponsored by the American Federation for Children, included 2,014 registered voters. Forty-two percent identified as Democratic, 31 percent as Republican, and 28 percent as Independent.
Fully 70 percent of respondents said they support a federal tax credit scholarship program similar to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship administered by Step Up For Students (which hosts this blog) that serves more than 100,000 lower-income students.
According to the American Federation for Children, the strongest support for a tax credit scholarship – 74 percent – came from respondents 45 to 54 years old. Meanwhile, 71 percent of black voters, the highest level of any racial demographic, were supportive. Latino voters also showed strong support with 69 percent favoring school choice.
In terms of political party, about 76 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats supported school choice options overall.
While 53 percent of respondents said they currently send their children to district-run public schools, given a choice, 70 percent would choose another educational option; 39 percent specifically identified their first choice as a private school.
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher union and most vocal opponent of school choice vouchers and charter schools, has yet to endorse a presidential candidate for 2020. Though the union is expected to contribute millions of dollars to the presidential campaign, it remains to be seen if its endorsed candidate will be able to maintain an anti-education choice stance given public sentiment in favor of it, compounded by the fact that several swing states including Arizona and Florida have large education choice populations.
Other swing states, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, have large charter school populations, and Pennsylvania also offers tax credit scholarships to thousands of lower- and middle-income students.
Reading test results: The state’s 3rd-graders posted slightly lower scores on the Florida Standards Assessments reading tests this year, according to results released by the Florida Department of Education. Twenty percent of the state’s 3rd-graders – more than 44,000 students – post a Level 1 score, which puts them at risk of repeating the grade. Last year it was 19 percent. About half of the affected students are promoted using the state’s retention law exemptions or by attending summer reading camps. Fifty-seven percent of the 3rd-graders posted a Level 3 score, which is considered at or above grade level, down from 58 percent last year but up from the 53 percent in 2015. The test scores also factor into the formula for school grades, which come out later this summer. Orlando Sentinel. Gradebook. Ocala Star-Banner.
Housing for teachers: Suggestions in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties that affordable housing for teachers be built on school campuses is getting a chilly reaction from teachers. “I mean, who wants to live where they work?” asks Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade. Other teachers union officials agree, and suggest a better solution would be to pay teachers more so they could afford mortgages or rents in south Florida. WLRN.
Teacher prep rules: The U.S. Education Department issues guidelines for states to rate colleges’ teacher preparation programs on an annual basis. The ratings would track teachers after graduation and show how they perform, which is intended to help aspiring teachers decide on which college to attend and to improve the colleges’ programs. The states will rate the programs as effective, at-risk, or low-performing. Washington Post. Education Week.
Scholarships appeal: The groups challenging Florida’s public education adequacy continue to focus on school choice, and are targeting the state’s McKay scholarship program for children with special needs in their appeal. The program helps 30,000 Florida children with special needs pay private school tuition. The groups call the program unconstitutional. redefinED.
Hiring freeze: A hiring freeze that is requiring reshuffling of some educators back into empty classrooms will affect success coaches hired by the Hillsborough County School District to work closely with at-risk students, according to a district memo sent to employees. Gradebook.
Contract negotiations: The proposed contract between Pinellas teachers and the school district includes a guarantee of renewal for teachers on annual contracts who are judged to be effective or highly effective. Gradebook.
Democrats made it through their week-long national convention without talking much about their plans for public education. Like at the Republican convention the week before, most talk of school choice and educational opportunity happened off the main stage. Still, there were some signals about the shape of education politics to come.
Who would hold sway on education in a Hillary Clinton administration?
“She’s going to listen to a lot of people. But we’re going to be in her ear first, talking about things like what English-language learners need, what students in special education need, and what a test measures and what it doesn’t measure,” Eskelsen García told me as she bounced from one event to another here.
Ben LaBolt, former National Press Secretary for Obama for America, replied: “The Clinton campaign has said they’re going to have a seat at the table for everyone in the party who works in education. That means reformers will have a seat at the table, that means the unions will have a seat at the table.” The important thing, he quipped, is that “the unions don’t get all the seats at the table — just one of the seats.”
And what about President Barack Obama’s legacy of support for charter schools?
Now, a party’s platform is very different from how that party’s nominee, if elected, would actually govern. But to the extent the platform represents Hillary Clinton’s views — and on the campaign trail, she’s shown some signs that it may — she should think again. Charter school populations mirror the Democrats’ base of low-income and working-class African-Americans and Latinos. Attacks on the schools they send their children to are not what they want or need from the political party they call home.
Regardless what happens in the political arena this year, the education reform agenda remains a powerful force.
School choice is here to stay because families want a say in where their children go to school. We are now arguing about the best ways to offer families choice, not whether empowering families is a good idea.
ESAs in court
State Supreme Court hearings on Nevada’s landmark education savings account program fired up people on both sides of the school choice debate.
They rallied both in support of and against Senate Bill 302, a controversial bill that Republicans passed last year to create the state’s new education savings account program, gathering on the courthouse steps as attorneys prepared to deliver oral arguments before the Nevada Supreme Court.
“Our children deserve better than this,” said ESA supporter Jennifer Hainley. She said she wants to use the program to transfer her son from a Clark County school which lacks “the right learning environment.”
Thousands of other parents play the waiting game while the legal battle winds on.
Tim Keller of the Institute for Justice, which represents parents in one of the cases, weighs in here.