Don’⁠t⁠ K⁠i⁠ll ⁠t⁠he Dream

By: The James Madison Institute / 2011



By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Now that Florida’s kids have gone back to school, did you ever wonder what might be on the mind of your child’s teacher? The Florida Education Association’s website offers a clue. There the union announced its “Don’t Kill the Dream” rally for Friday, August 26 at the Tallahassee office of Congressman Steve Southerland. The announcement’s own words reveal the partisan tone:  “The Republican leadership is killing the American dream. What’s more, they’re getting away with it. From cuts to student grants, to fighting to end Medicare as we know it, Republicans won’t stop until they’ve eliminated all the programs ordinary Americans depend upon to succeed. With your help, we can hold them accountable and help shape the debate for 2012.”Notice the verb “depend,” a kissing cousin of the noun “dependency” and the adjective “dependent,” which is an antonym of “independent” and “self reliant.” For some advocates of ever-larger government, enlarging the populace dependent on the government is a useful political goal.As for the rally, its announced purpose is to present a list of proposals titled “10 Critical Steps to Get Our Economy Back on Track.” Declaring “We have a jobs crisis, not a deficit crisis,” the union pooh-poohs the rising tide of red ink and presents its ideas on how to foster prosperity. A sampling:

Create good, green jobs in America, address the climate crisis, and build the clean energy economy with innovative technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal systems, hybrid and electric cars, and next-generation batteries.
Provide universal access to early childhood education, make school funding equitable, [and] invest in high-quality teachers.
Expand Medicare so it’s available to all Americans …The Affordable Care Act is a good start and we must implement it — but it’s not enough
Keep Social Security sound, and strengthen the retirement, disability, and survivors’ protections … Pay for it by removing the cap on the Social Security tax, so that upper-income people pay into Social Security on all they make…
End, once and for all, the Bush-era tax giveaways for the rich… outlaw corporate tax havens …with millionaires and billionaires taking a growing share of our country’s wealth, we should add new tax brackets for those making more than $1 million each year.
Tax Wall Street speculation. A tiny fee of a twentieth of 1% on each Wall Street trade could raise tens of billions of dollars annually…
Ban anonymous political influence, and publicly finance elections.
Give immigrants a clear path to citizenship.
Stop giving corporations the rights of people when it comes to our elections.
Ensure our judiciary’s respect for the Constitution.    

I imagine that every American would agree with the last item – though quite likely with differing interpretations of “respect for the Constitution.” As for unions, of course they have every right under the First Amendment to advocate their ideas. Moreover, teachers, like all of us, enjoy a freedom of association that allows them to band together to achieve as a group what they may not be able to achieve as individuals.In Florida, a right-to-work state, union membership is not mandatory, though most teachers actually face a difficult choice. In 66 of Florida’s 67 school districts, the union represents all teachers in collective bargaining whether or not they choose to join. If they don’t join, they don’t have a voice in how they’re represented. Moreover, there’s often peer-group pressure to join and to acquiesce to unfair practices that include generous contributions to political candidates and causes with which the individual teachers may not agree.A fair question is why Florida’s taxpayers should continue to serve as unwitting accomplices in this process, indirectly aiding and abetting the union’s partisan activities by affording the union the use of its payroll system. Using tax-paid facilities and personnel, the school districts deduct money from union members’ paychecks and forward it to the union, where much of it is used for highly partisan political activities such as the rally described above. Under the kind of “paycheck protection” system in place in Utah and several other states — and unsuccessfully proposed during the Florida Legislature’s 2011 session — school districts bow out of the dues-collection process, and the payment of union dues thus becomes a matter between the teachers and the union. That’s where it belongs.As for the union’s rally, it’s instructive that it’s at a congressman’s office rather than at a state legislative office or a school district headquarters. The federal government’s bureaucratic meddling in education – indeed, the very creation of the U.S. Department of Education in 1979, during the Carter Administration – was a reward to the teachers unions for their activities on behalf of presidential candidates such as … Jimmy Carter! In the ensuing years, pupil achievement has steadily declined while federal involvement in education has increased. In fact, according to the Heritage Foundation, “In 2010 there were 151 K-12 and early childhood education programs housed in 20 federal agencies, averaging $55.6 billion annually.”If the teachers union is sincere in urging “respect for the Constitution” – which never mentions a federal role in education – then it would support shifting control of education back where it belongs: to parents and to those levels of government closest to the people. When will there be a rally for that?