Thursday, June 21, 2018

Teacher unions must be reined in

Any day now the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a case brought against government unions for charging non-members “agency fees.” If unions are prohibited from charging those fees, the cost of members’ dues could soar—by hundreds of dollars in the case of California Teachers Association members. The result? Less money and fewer members.

A favorable ruling would be great news for non-union members, but what about the rest of us?

In his latest California Policy Center column Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher and California Teachers Empowerment Network President, shows there is still plenty of work to be done in the states no matter how SCOTUS rules.

First, absent changes to state laws, taxpayers will continue footing the bill for teachers unions dues collection, according to Sand:

As I have written before, the taxpayer is the bagman for the teachers union, whose dues are deducted by the local school district from a teacher’s monthly paycheck just as federal and state withholding taxes are. Then the school district turns the money over to the local teachers union. And we all get to pay for this service. Yup, the teachers union, a private organization, doesn’t pay a penny for the transactions.

Numerous states have restricted this practice, including Washington (1992), Idaho (1997), Wyoming (1998), Utah (2001, H.B. 179), ), Idaho (2003, Voluntary Contributions Act), Indiana (2005, Gov. Mitch Daniels’ executive order), Alabama (2010, SB 2, see here also), Wisconsin (2011, Act 10), Arizona (2011, Senate Bill 1365), North Carolina (2012, S 727), Michigan (Public Act 53 of 2012), Kansas (2013, HB 2022), Oklahoma (2015, House Bill 1749), Kentucky (January 2017, HB 1), Iowa (December 2017, HF 291), and most recently Oklahoma (May 2018, Senate Bill 690, which prohibits school districts from putting conditions on employees’ decisions to initiate or terminate any payroll deductions), and Missouri (June 2018, HB 1413). (See also here, here, here, pp. 66-67 here; and pp. 601-604 here ).

Several other states are attempting to ban school districts from acting as unions’ dues-collection agencies, including Louisiana (HB 593), Minnesota (HF 3723 and SF 3387), New Hampshire (HB 1803), New Jersey (S 1650 and A 183), Ohio (here, here, here, and here), Pennsylvania (House Bill 1174 and Senate Bill 166, see also here), Tennessee (2016, SB 151/HB 294 and 2017, HB 356/SB 404), and West Virginia (SB 335).

In stark contrast, California is trying to double down on the practice. Pending legislation (Assembly Bill 1937) would “reaffirm” the duty of public employers to engage in payroll deductions when requested by employees and their unions. However, employers must get approval from the unions, not the employees, before they can take deductions or enact any administrative rules.

Sand highlights some additional salient facts taxpayers in the states should keep in mind.

Teachers unions are private, tax-exempt organizations. The National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, reported nearly $366 million in revenue, while the California Teachers Association reported more than $183 million. “The sickening irony here,” says Sand, “is that these unions persistently use their taxpayer-paid tax-free money to raise taxpayer taxes!”

In a post-Janus world, teachers unions could be fighting for their collectivist lives. Anticipating an unfavorable ruling, part of their fight in California is a slew of pending legislation, including a bill that would force taxpayers to subsidize union dues (AB 2577). Yet these same private organizations oppose educational choice programs, claiming they “privatize” education. A leading target of teachers unions is tax-credit scholarship programs, which allow taxpayers to claim credits against their state taxes for donations to non-profit scholarship organizations. Those credits, teachers unions argue, should instead fund government schools—or perhaps the unions themselves, if the California union subsidy bill passes.

“[W]hen it comes to a private entity making a killing from public education, the teachers unions have no peers,” Sand concludes, adding, “While fair-minded people everywhere are rooting for Mark Janus to win his case and strike a blow for employee freedom, here’s hoping the taxpayers in California and elsewhere will, at some point, get their shot at emancipation...”


NEA Grants for Clown College

Of all the strange things that the U.S. government spends money upon, perhaps one of the strangest is a college for clowns located in California’s 12th congressional district, which falls entirely within the city limits of San Francisco and is represented by Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Part of the Circus Center, which provides training to people who would like to pursue careers as circus performers, the Clown Conservatory received a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017 to help fund a “24-week program, taught by master clowns, circus artists, and circus historians”, which aimed to train “professional and professional-track performing artists in narrative clowning, character creation, circus arts, and performance. The training will help prepare artists to meet the demands of today’s international circus, film, and theater job market.”

CNSNews’ Terrence Jeffrey provides more background on what the NEA’s grant of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Clown Conservatory buys:

The center says that the Clown Conservatory is “the United States’ only professional training program for clowns and physical comedians.”

“Clown Conservatory is a multidisciplinary training program in physical comedy, precision idiocy and eccentric acting,” says the school’s brochure.

“Our program’s directive,” it says, “is to foster the super-versatile Human Cartoon.”

The organization’s website lists classes and workshops that include “Character Morphing,” “Buffoon,” and “Precision Idiocy: Micro-Crafting Physical Comedy.”

Aside from providing this core program of training for America’s next generation of political leaders, the Clown Conservatory represents taxpayer dollars being wastefully directed to sustain something that the public really doesn’t want.

Because if it did, there would be a growing international job market for clowns fed by growing public demand, and there simply isn’t. The evidence for that can be found in the stagnant membership numbers of the World Clown Association, which has consistently counted some 2,400 people in its ranks since 2004.

Over the same period of time, the world population grew by over one billion. If the world’s population were really demanding more clowns, you would think that worldwide clown demand would have at least kept up with population growth, where we’d see that growth reflected in the clowning world’s professional associations. You know, to support all the hiring going on in “today’s international circus, film, and theater job market” for clowns.

But while the clown community has not meaningfully grown for nearly two decades, the Circus Center has proved adept at securing NEA grants, collecting $175,000 since 2000. The $10,000 that the group received from the NEA to support its Clown Conservancy training program is just the latest batch of federal taxpayer dollars that the group has received.

Referring to the $10,000 NEA grant for the Clown Conservancy, asked the Circus Center: “Why should American taxpayers fund a school for clowns?”

Barry Kendall, executive director of the Circus Center, responded. “Paying taxes is a deeply patriotic act and supporting the preservation and advancement of American culture is one of the patriotic uses of those dollars,” said Kendall. “Circus Center is proud of the unique contributions that our professional clown training program makes to the cultural life of our nation, and we are delighted that Clown Conservatory was recognized through the NEA’s competitive application process.”

That’s the kind of professional training for America’s next generation of political leaders that I was talking about! Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be based in the home district of the current minority party leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, who was also once third-in-line for the U.S. Presidential succession in their former role as Speaker of the House.

After all, this kind of wasteful spending doesn’t repeatedly happen by accident!


Teachers Unions Have Lost Support—Including from Teachers

The National Education Association is bracing for disaster. If the Supreme Court rules, in the much-anticipated Janus case, against public-employee unions charging “agency fees” to non-members, then the NEA will be prepared with a $50 million smaller budget, a reflection of the potential loss of dues from more than 300,000 teachers. It’s a prudent move after years of taking the support of teachers for granted, according to Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger.

Recent polls show that teachers unions have lost support from the rank and file. “Contrary to the collectivist mythos dominating union policies and practice, teachers are not a monolithic voting bloc,” Alger writes in the Washington Times. “They don’t need or want grand pooh-bahs telling them how to vote.”

In some cases, teachers feel betrayed that unions negotiating on their behalf have sought concessions that go beyond matters of teacher compensation but deal also with political issues. Many parents have also pulled back support from teachers unions. “So come November,” Alger writes, “parents, teachers, and taxpayers in Arizona and other states will certainly remember [the recent wave of teacher strikes], but likely not the way strike organizers or union bosses presume they will.”


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