Union Kills Accountability

Union Kills Accountability

Union Kills Accountability

Among the highest priorities of government unions is to shield government employees from accountability.

Teachers’ union officials collect roughly $80 million per year to pursue employees’ self-interest, and they do it very well.

In the legislative session just concluded, the issue of teacher evaluation provides a clear example.

Currently, Washington’s system of teacher evaluation is determined by union officials and local school boards in collective bargaining. This system is imbalanced because the unions get to set policies in compelled bargaining arrangements backed up by laws and practices which wink at illegal strikes.

As a result of overpowered employee interest, Washington’s school districts have fairly uniform teacher evaluation agreements. It is little surprise these evaluations focus on factors other than effectiveness or excellence. As a result, teachers are almost universally found acceptable.

Education reformers find this intolerable, and have been seeking legislation to make teacher evaluations more like evaluations in the rest of the working world. More recently, the Obama administration has suggested this kind of improved teacher evaluation system is required for Washington to continue receiving $38 million in federal funds for high poverty schools.

Predictably, Washington Education Association union officials made defeat of any policy requiring employee evaluation on the basis of educational effectiveness one of the highest priorities of their incredibly expensive lobbying efforts. (I wrote previously about their success in killing one version of this legislation when the Senate considered it on February 18th.)

For starters, WEA had to bring to heel the Democrat’s education policy leader, Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, in whom they directly invested $130,000 (this is not a typo) in the last election. Sen. McAuliffe initially agreed with the Obama administration that teacher evaluations must consider student learning, and she introducedlegislation to do just that.

Yet even after leading the effort, Sen. McAuliffe bowed to WEA pressure and repudiated her own bill.The issue is important to reformers and to those who want to comply with federal terms for receiving approximately $40 million. Most papers in the state agree that the evaluation change is necessary: Seattle TimesSpokesman ReviewNews TribuneColumbian, Everett HeraldTri-City Herald. The Governor, after meeting with President Obama’s Department of Education Director, has indicated he supports a stronger employee evaluation law.

The issue of teacher evaluation continued to move forward in the form of other proposed legislation.

March 6th was another opposition surge by the teacher union officials. They paid for substitutes, hired busesand brought in another batch of color-coordinated activists.

WEA Killing Teacher Eval

So why did a policy supported by Democrats, Republicans, newspapers, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the governor fail to become law?

Austin Jenkins, NPR host and respected legislative commentator answers thus:

“Very simply, the Washington Education Association. The teachers union is vehemently opposed to this … what this shows is the power, especially in an election year, of a key base constituency for … the Democrats.” “The Impact 2014 Sine Die Edition,” March 13, 2014

When the legislature adjourned, the legislation was dead. The cost of the WEA victory? It is likely the state will lose roughly $38 million in federal funds, and districts may face new mandates from the federal government.

Public employee unions pour millions of dollars into elections and hundreds of thousands into lobbying. Never in the history of the state has any single self-interest been so empowered by special state laws protecting its funding and control.

Why do elected leaders give a state-protected revenue stream under the guise of “workplace representation” to private organizations that turn around and dominate political and governmental processes?

It truly is time to rethink whether laws that prop up public employee unions make any sense.

Senior Policy Analyst
Jami Lund is the Freedom Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst. From 2004 to 2011, he developed legislative policy as a research analyst for the Washington House Republican Caucus. Prior to that he worked for the Freedom Foundation as the Project Manager for the Teachers Paycheck Protection project, shepherding the development of the Foundation’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court case to protect teacher rights. Jami is an accomplished speaker and researcher, one of Washington state’s top scholars on education policy and finance.