Keep the Change

Sarah Perry
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Posted: Nov 22, 2014 12:01 AM
Keep the Change

Teachers unions are squirming.

A California Plaintiff’s challenge to a state law making payment of union dues compulsory for non-union teachers may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit’s summary affirmance opened the door for review by SCOTUS, who as recently as June signaled its distaste for state laws compelling financial support of unions that workers don’t wish to join.

This, on the heels of what some have called a “red wave.” Whatever the characterization of the November 5th midterms, it was clear that the current Administration’s abysmal approval ratings and stagnation on key policies contributed to the widespread about-face of voters. Republicans not only reclaimed the House, they gained seven seats to take the Senate. Adding to this was the surge in GOP governors in states heavily predicted to fall blue: Charlie Baker (R) won in Massachusetts, Larry Hogan (R) prevailed in Maryland, and Bruce Rauner (R) beat Gov. Pat Quinn (D) in Illinois.

Americans are fed up, and voted that way.

Perhaps most surprised by election outcomes were the teachers unions who, with a combined commitment of at least $60 million in funding, backed Democrats in six states and lost four of them. The vaunted democratic turn-out was insufficient to defeat gubernatorial candidates who had an eye toward cutting K-12 spending, expanding school voucher programs, and pushing right-to-work laws.

Teachers unions took nothing short of a shellacking.

Scott Walker’s repeat victory in Wisconsin by a margin of six points was particularly notable, as it was the third time in four years he’s survived an attempt by organized labor to oust him from the governorship—provoked largely by his attempt in 2011 to curb collective bargaining in that state.

Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children issued a statement last Tuesday that: “Gov. Scott Walker’s track record of challenging the status quo and expanding educational options for Wisconsin families is a major reason he was reelected tonight . . . The teachers’ union agenda was soundly rejected in Wisconsin and we applaud Gov. Walker for running a strong campaign and not backing down in his support of educational choice and innovation for Wisconsin families.”

Despite widespread union losses, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten categorized the outcomes as a win for labor, saying, “It’s clear that many believe this country is on the wrong track and voted for change. Republicans successfully made this a referendum on President Obama’s record and won resoundingly, but where the election was about everyday concerns—education, minimum wage, paid sick leave—working families prevailed.”

Working families did prevail. And they did so by trouncing candidates committed to increased spending, entrenchment of teacher tenure, and promotion of Common Core—a curricular agenda of which even teachers themselves are now increasingly wary. In fact, while as many as 44 percent of teachers oppose Common Core, their dues went not to the consideration of what they teach (the Common Core), but to the tired, anti-reform agenda unions have been promoting for decades.

Indeed, where Common Core was a campaign issue, it lost. The Superintendent of Schools races in Georgia and Arizona proved how ready voters were for educational reform, and how far from the status quo they were willing to move. The victors in both races—Diane Douglas in Arizona, and Richard Woods in Georgia--are vocal opponents of the Common Core and beat more moderate, union-backed candidates. Oklahoma’s Superintendent race also went to a Common Core opponent, Joy Hofmeister, as did South Carolina’s, with Republican Molly Spearman. A second wave of Common Core repeals seems likely.

Part of the union’s millions went to the successful re-election campaign of California State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson, a win necessary to ease the pain of Vergara v. California, in which fifty years of California laws governing teacher tenure were recently ruled to have violated that state’s constitution.

While the combined 4.6-million members of the AFT and the NEA are undoubtedly unhappy with the allocation of their dues toward a flood of union losses, the rest of the nation seems to be saying they’d have done better to keep their change.