- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2011

For decades, the nation’s teachers unions have billed themselves as the defenders of public education. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have continually pressed for ever greater amounts of kindergarten-through-12th-grade funding, assuring taxpayers it was all to benefit the children - even when static test scores told a different story.

And so the country embarked on a years-long K-12 spending binge. Teacher salaries and benefit plans swelled, eating up huge portions of school budgets. School boards and administrators must have known the spending was ridiculously high, but it kept the unions quiet, so they played along.

But the go-go ‘90s and early 2000s have given way to this new, no-go decade that finds state and school budgets with a severe case of atrophy. Now that many schools are in deep financial distress, taxpayers are able to gauge how much the teachers unions really care about the students. This is the moment of truth.

Instead of offering givebacks to help their school districts survive, teachers unions are scrambling to preserve all of their perks and payouts. In their mad dash for cash, some teachers unions have taken to knocking over students who dare come between them and their place at the public trough. Such scenarios are occurring every week in communities all across the country. Here are a few recent examples:

c In Kansas, the Lawrence Education Association is demanding a $1,500 pay raise for all teachers even as the district grapples with $3 million less in state aid. When school officials discovered that reduced health insurance costs would enable them to offer union members a one-time $500 pay raise instead of the requested $1,500 raise, LEA’s lead negotiator blasted the district, saying, “That’s our money. If the insurance costs less, we should be able to get better insurance or something else because that money is already ours.”

c In Oregon, the Redmond Education Association wants a 1.8 percent cost-of-living raise beginning in March 2012 despite the school district’s $8 million budget deficit. To pay for the raises, the union wants to cut the school year by eight days, three of which would be class days. The REA is willing for the students to get less education as long as the union gets its pay raise.

c In Virginia, the Floyd County School Board cut 3 1/2 jobs (including a part-time school nurse and a truancy-social-work director) in order to give unionized teachers a pay raise.

c In Pennsylvania, the Allentown Education Association voted against accepting a pay freeze that would have saved dozens of teaching jobs. Partly as a result of the union’s self-centeredness, the district recently gave layoff notices to 165 teachers. Class sizes are expected to swell even as academic offerings (such as art, music, library and physical education) shrink for students.

c Also in Oregon, the Medford School District needs to fill its $12 million budget gap and is considering a plan that would increase pay-to-play fees for student athletes and restrict team travel as a way of reducing transportation costs. Meanwhile, teachers are enjoying (in the district’s own words) “liberal personnel benefits,” such as automatic step raises and “generous benefits at District expense,” including “hospital/medical/dental/vision care insurance, tuition reimbursement, sick leave, sabbatical leave [and] personal leave.”

c In Michigan, the Traverse City Education Association rejected a proposal from school administrators that would have saved dozens of teacher layoffs. Instead, the union wants a 1.75 percent pay raise and no changes to its health benefits. Increased class sizes and decreased academic offerings are expected, and the union clearly doesn’t care.

One good thing that has come out of the bad economy is that teachers unions have been unmasked for the greedy, self-serving groups that they are. The unions are ready to lash out at anyone who threatens their financial interests. That includes students.

Teachers unions have the right to fight for their members’ financial self-interests, but they should spare us the silly masquerade that they are advocates for the children. It’s just not believable anymore.

Kyle Olson is CEO of the Education Action Group.