House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves a swift rap on the knuckles for hiding underneath the desk of the American schoolteacher. In a cynical ploy to evade accountability for the Democrats' continued fiscal recklessness, Pelosi accused opponents of the $26 billion public employee union bailout bill of "demeaning" teachers -- and nurses, police officers and firefighters. Pelosi took great offense at Republican leaders who called out the Big Labor special interests pushing the emergency summer rescue. But if they walk, talk, spend and lobby like special interests, let's call them what they are.
I have nothing against public school teachers. My mother was one. My children are taught by some of the best in the nation. And over the years, I've reported on valiant battles between rank-and-file educators in government schools and their fat, bloated union leaders who've transformed their professional organizations into wholly owned Democratic subsidiaries. My opposition to the so-called "Edujobs" bill (more accurately: the BigGovJobs bill) stems not from meanness, but from compassion for millions of dues-paying school employees being used as special interest human shields.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based Labor Union Report, the National Education Association in 2009 "raked in a whopping $355,334,165 in 'dues and agency fees' from (mostly) teachers around the country." It spent close to $11 million more than it took in -- $50 million of which union leaders poured into "political activities and lobbying" for exclusively left-wing and Democratic partisan causes and candidates.
Its primary mission? No, not educational excellence. Not "the children." Political self-preservation. The "Edujobs" bill will essentially redistribute tax dollars to teachers unions to the tune of $36 million for the National Education Association and $14 million for the American Federation of Teachers, according to the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press. School officials said they have no idea what strings would be attached to the money, whether state legislatures would approve the cash as part of special supplemental budgets, how long the money would last, and how they would pay for stop-gap measures while waiting for the taxpayer funds to flow.
As for the "emergency" invoked by Pelosi at the behest of Big Labor, as Republican critics point out, states and the feds still have more than $30 billion in unspent stimulus funds sitting in government coffers. And school districts are already in the midst of rehiring school workers laid off earlier this year -- absent the latest "Edujobs" initiative.
Last July, the National Education Association's retiring top lawyer, Bob Chanin, speaking at the NEA's annual meeting in July, made the union's true interests transparent:
"Despite what some among us would like to believe it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children and it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.
"And we have power because there are more than 3.2 million people who are willing to pay us hundreds of millions of dollars in dues each year, because they believe that we are the unions that can most effectively represent them, the unions that can protect their rights and advance their interests as education employees. ...
"This is not to say that the concern of NEA and its affiliates with closing achievement gaps, reducing dropout rates, improving teacher quality and the like are unimportant or inappropriate. To the contrary. These are the goals that guide the work we do. But they need not and must not be achieved at the expense of due process, employee rights and collective bargaining. That simply is too high a price to pay."
Left-wing radical Saul Alinsky taught his education acolytes well. Teacher organizers, he counseled, must commit to a "singleness of purpose." No, not serving children's needs, but serving the "ability to build a power base." If that isn't the dictionary definition of "special interest," what is?