Hillary Clinton took pandering to a new level when she addressed delegates to the National Education Association’s (NEA) convention on July 5.
On the same day FBI Director James Comey was exposing Mrs. Clinton as a serial liar for her actions related to the infamous State Department email scandal, she was buttering up the NEA — the largest teachers union — by telling members they are the cat’s meow of American education.
“Supporting educators means supporting unions,” Mrs. Clinton loudly declared. “Unions helped create the strongest middle class in the history of the world. You’re not just fighting for your members, you’re fighting for your students and for families across the country.”
That will come as news to the California students from minority and low-income homes whose education suffered as a result of incompetent but tenure-protected teachers being disproportionately assigned to their schools. With backing from a Silicon Valley investor, they went to court to challenge quick-and-easy tenure; hard-to-attain dismissal; and last-hired, first-fired layoffs — policies cemented into state law as a result of the political clout wielded by the California Teachers Association (CTA), an NEA affiliate.
Two years ago, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu held in Vergara v. California the union gravy train deprived the nine student plaintiffs and their peers statewide of “equal protection of the laws.” The judge cited “compelling” evidence of the destructive effect on students of tenured but “grossly ineffective teachers” running their classes. He added the situation “shocks the conscience.”
Underprivileged kids are hurt most because bad teachers typically wind up in their schools. However, nothing in the litigation shows tenure benefits students of any race or income level. It is all about protected employment for teachers, good and lousy alike. The CTA-NEA scheme enables teachers to gain tenure after a bare 16 months on the job and thereafter makes it practically impossible to fire them without spending anywhere from $40,000 to $400,000 on legal actions.
Taking Clinton at her word — a risky proposition, to be sure — parents and students should have cheered right along with the union hacks when a California appellate court reversed Judge Treu’s decision on April 14. To do otherwise, after all, would be to oppose good education. The union brass most certainly did crow; however, the Court of Appeals actually denounced the tenure system’s impact on students as “deplorable.” The jurists reasoned school administrators, not the tenure statutes per se, are responsible for teacher assignments. And in the end, the court’s job is to decide if statutes are constitutional, not if they are a “good idea.”
The California Supreme Court soon may decide whether to take an appeal of Vergara. However, in the interim, a Democratic state legislator and former teacher Susan Bonilla tried to bring about a modest reform that, among other changes, would have delayed tenure eligibility until teachers amass three years of service.
The teachers union didn’t buy the proposed constructive changes. It prevailed against its allies, gutting the Bonilla bill in committee and remaining opposed to what little remained.
Contrary to claims made by Mrs. Clinton asserting the great benefits of teachers unions, history has shown countless families have been forced to battle teachers unions to gain what should be considered common-sense parental rights, such as the freedom to choose schools rather than be forced to send children to whatever school is closest.
Instead of being empowered with freedom, parents are often left untangling the regulatory web that keeps good public schools from helping their children. When governments have given back to parents the rights that inherently belong to them, success has nearly always followed. An example would be the parents of the 78,000 Florida children, two-thirds of them black or Hispanic, who are currently able to exercise a private educational choice because of the 15-year-old Florida Tax-Credit Scholarship Program.
It is a safe bet that Mrs. Clinton does not consider those families worthy of being wrapped in the benevolent protection of union absolutists. Indeed, the Florida Education Association (FEA), another NEA affiliate, is seeking a court order to kill the scholarship program and thereby force all these children back into the government’s schools, including those failing to provide a quality education. The FEA is arguing every penny of scholarship money raised from tax-credited private-sector donations properly belongs to the government and its schools.
That ownership applies to all the children as well and pretty much summarizes the philosophy of the author of “It Takes a Village.”
Mrs. Clinton occasionally pays lip service to public charter schools. She even drew a smattering of boos from NEA delegates with a one-sentence suggestion that policymakers ought to glean ideas from the best schools, including both conventional schools and charter schools. However, her ideal charter school would conform to government standards. She sternly denounced any participation by private, for-profit providers.
Clearly, this presumptive Democratic presidential candidate wants schools standardized, unionized and socialized — and for all parents and students to take their marching orders from Education Central.
• Robert Holland is a senior fellow for education policy with the Heartland Institute.