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SCOTUS to Hear Friedrichs Case: Big Moment for Educational Freedom?

After last week’s legal setback for school choice in Colorado, I found a hopeful silver lining in a path to the U.S. Supreme Court. How great is the hope? Honestly, little me doesn’t know.

But my attention was so wrapped up in that story and others, that I nearly missed the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it would hear another pro-freedom education case: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The bottom line? A ruling in this case could strike down the ability of teachers unions to collect forced fee payments.

In all, 10 California teachers have stepped forward to challenge coercive union power. At the heart is a brave woman named Rebecca Friedrichs, who was profiled a few months ago in the Daily Caller:

Determined to do right by the students, Friedrichs wasn’t willing to give up. In the hopes of fixing the problems from within, she volunteered with the union.

“I volunteered serving within the union because I wanted to improve it from within,” Friedrichs explained. “I found I couldn’t help from within and I was actually bullied.”

She found the problem existed within the union ranks. While a lot of the local union officials and her fellow teachers were responsive, the officials higher up within the union ranks undermined real reform. The refusal to help and the bullying tactics made many teachers afraid to speak out against the union.

This ruling could be a big one to anticipate, as it carries the potential to set individual teachers and other workers free from coercive financing arrangements. But, as I’ve come to learn about courts, patience will be required. It probably will be close to another year before the final verdict is rendered.

In the meantime, I wonder what the impact would be on Colorado education. Most school districts here that collect union dues only do so for those who have at least voluntarily signed up at some point in the past. There are a few, however — most notably in Pueblo — that require teachers to go through an onerous opt-out process during a brief period each year in order to avoid paying full union dues equivalency.

What might the Friedrichs decision mean for these teachers, if anything? They decided not to join the union for whatever reason. Though technically they have a way out of paying tribute, they are treated to an inconvenience at the least and may lose hundreds of dollars a year just for not formally asking out again. But what will the law say?

Some people say I just don’t like teachers unions. After all, at the local level we’ve recently seen a nasty knockdown fight in Thompson over the refusal of union negotiators and district bureaucrats to even broach the topic of some modest changes.

And in Jeffco, union negotiations look to be winding down. Hope still exists for the favorable result of a vastly improved and pared down collective bargaining agreement, with the spectacle of an attempted school board recall election and a JCEA strike memo in the backdrop.

Of course, teachers unions frequently oppose basic accountability and empowering students and parents through educational choice. But then there’s this major related tendency to use different levels of coercion to hide information about their competitors, to make it more difficult for members to exit, and — worst of all — to force people like Rebecca Friedrichs and numerous Pueblo teachers to pay up.

Taking on union officials’ own evasion of the central issue in the Friedrichs case, longtime observer Mike Antonucci foresees a potentially devastating blow to union coffers and the current power structure.

What would it be like to have membership organizations on a large scale that have to compete for teachers’ attention and support, to provide service that strengthens the profession, promotes healthy systemic education changes from the bottom up, and respects the diversity of educators’ political views?

Probably a lot different than the National Education Association’s recently concluded annual shindig. Hey, it’s not just a little guy’s dream. We could be less than a year away from taking a big step forward for educational freedom.