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Thankful Not to Have Unions’ Political Spending Record, Long-Term Prospects

‘Tis the week of Thanksgiving, which allows me the chance to express my gratitude about many things. One of those is that I didn’t spend nearly $70 million on the 2014 elections and yet lose so badly, as the two national teachers unions did.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of reflection. Yes, Thanksgiving is mostly about looking back, so maybe this would be a better conversation for a New Year’s resolution. But if nothing else, certain demographic realities are staring the major teachers unions in the face. Their activist base isn’t getting any younger. Now that really doesn’t put a big crimp in their plans for the near future, but it has to be a serious part of their long-term strategy sessions.

Two questions follow: First, how much of a chance is there that unions will look to change their political spending habits? Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle details a whole other batch of newly reported spending by the National Education Association: $132 million in funding that doesn’t directly support political candidates and parties but has the usual strong Leftward ideological bent.

Second, what will Colorado teachers union members, who have a December 15 political refund option deadline, do? Of course, the refund is available for funds spent on state (not national) elections. And on that account, the Colorado Education Association did have a somewhat better record choosing winners with its bigger investments. But as usual, its investments were strictly poured into one side of the political aisle.

Perhaps this opportunity provides a glimpse at a possible way forward. I’m talking about the opportunity for individual teachers to decide. Truly local empowerment. In a great new redefinED post, Doug Tuthill explains his transition from a local union president to a school choice champion. His basic philosophy didn’t much change, as even in his early days he stood at odds with national union leadership:

These teachers union traditionalists believe teacher power should be centrally controlled and used by the union for the greater good of teachers collectively, which is where I split from them. I believe a primary function of collective teacher power is the empowerment of individual teachers.

Empowerment of individual teachers… It’s crazy ideas like believing classroom educators should have more freedom to exercise membership options that can get you tagged with all kinds of nasty names by militant True Believers. That’s what my Education Policy Center grown-up friends tell me. (I reply: Well, at least they haven’t crashed any of your meetings lately.)

I tell them if they’re tired of the name-calling, they could just sign up for a job like this one. Speaking of which, I wonder if the CEA has found its new Government Affairs Director.

There aren’t many jobs out there like it, that’s for sure. How well the position plays out may just be a further indication of whether the leading member of the Education Industrial Complex can change its stripes, or is destined to end up on the wrong side of history.

Students will need great teachers for generations to come. Whether they need the industrial-style labor model in K-12 education is an entirely different matter.