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Do teachers' unions actually serve the best interests of teachers?

Teachers' unions in America claim to serve the best interests of teachers, but does their track record support that claim?

“The teachers' unions have a bad track record of actually raising teacher salaries in the US,” said Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice at the Reason Foundation and adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute, during an interview with Freedom Media Network founder Curt Mercadante.

“Over 1992 to 2014, they actually dropped in real terms by 2%, although spending has gone up by 27%,” DeAngelis added.

Mercadante asked DeAngelis if it’s better to separate out the “teachers” from the “teachers unions” when talking about educational policy choices.

“Oh yeah, I'm definitely pro-teacher, but I'm not necessarily pro-teachers union. And those are absolutely two different things,” explained DeAngelis.

He pointed to the 11-day Chicago teachers strike in 2019 where DeAngelis said the union was fighting “for some salary increases, but one of their main thrusts behind the 11-day strike was to increase support staff.”

“And when you increase support staff, what happens? You get more union members and you get more union dues,” he said. “So you get more political support and political pressure and political power from having more people in the buildings. You don't get that same benefit if you just increase teacher salaries.”

DeAngelis said the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME might lead to a decrease in union political power. That decision, he said, “makes it illegal for unions to require teachers and other public sector workers to pay union dues.

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“And it should decrease if they're not actually spending money wisely on the teachers and fighting for policies that actually do benefit teachers directly,” he said. “I never say I'm anti-union either. I just want institutions to be able to have the choice. The problem with the public education system though, is that it's a public sector union, we have compulsory education laws, and we have compulsory funding of these educational institutions.”

DeAngelis added, “So like in Chicago, it was an 11-day strike, who was screwed from that deal? It was the students and the families because they had to figure out where to send their kids, and the taxpayer still had to pay into their property taxes. You didn't get any 11-day tax refund because you didn't get the services that you were provided.”

When public teachers' unions go on strike, he said, it’s the customers, not the teachers, who feel the pain.

In a private union strike, “if I'm striking against Walmart and I'm a Walmart employee, I want Walmart to feel the pain. I don't want the customers of Walmart to feel the pain, because I want the employer to pay me more. That's the point of a strike.”

“What happens is Walmart has one of two decisions to make. They can either fire these workers and so that their customers can come back or they say, ‘Oh, well, look, if we don't have our workers, we can't serve our customers so let's pay them more like they want,’” said DeAngelis. “And so then the teachers win, the customers win, the employees win, that's a win-win and the only thing that we're missing in this calculation here in the public school system is school choice. It would fix all of this.”

What he said happens with public teachers' unions, however, is that “it's the customers who are the ones that are feeling all the pain and so nothing really changes and the spending patterns kind of return to their normal course.”

DeAngelis said school choice and the ability for parents to choose and “shop”, instead of being compelled to attend specific schools, will lead to better management of money and educational quality

“Where school choice is you can vote with your feet to another place. And what's good is if you vote with your feet to another place, then the schools, the school districts, would actually have an incentive to spend the money wisely,” he said. “If people had school choice, I wouldn't mind at all, because then people could vote with their feet, and if this school that you're assigned to has a 20-day strike or whatever, I can take my money elsewhere,” explained DeAngelis. “I can take my child to a school that doesn't just close at random and that actually serves the children instead of putting them on the streets for 11 days, essentially. I think school choice would remedy this public-sector union problem in Chicago and elsewhere in the United States.”

Watch Mercadante’s full discussion with DeAngelis by clicking here.

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