For most Americans the coronavirus is a scourge. But teachers’ unions seem to think it’s also an opportunity — to squeeze more money from taxpayers and put their private and public charter school competition out of business. That’s the only way to read the extraordinary effort by national union leaders to keep their members from returning to the classroom.
Last week Randi Weingarten, leader of the powerful American Federation of Teachers, declared support for “safety strikes” if local unions deem insufficient the steps their school districts are taking to mitigate COVID-19. And on Monday an alliance of teachers’ unions and progressive groups sponsored what they called a “national day of resistance” around the country listing their demands before returning to the classroom. They include:
• Support for our communities and families, including canceling rents and mortgages, a moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance to those not able to work or who are unemployed, and other critical social needs
• Moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing
• Massive infusion of federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street”
The phrase for this is political extortion. Rather than work to open schools safely, the unions are issuing ultimatums and threatening strikes until they are granted their ideological wish list. Children, who would have to endure more lost instruction, are their hostages.
The teachers’ unions have a cynical interest in forcing their competitors to shut down. What a humiliation it would be if charter and private schools reopen and demonstrate that in-person education can be done with the right risk mitigation. Or if parents unsatisfied with the public schools’ response to the coronavirus decide a private school would be better for their child.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Americans are getting a closer look at the true, self-interested character of today’s teachers’ unions. They are allies of the political left. And they wield monopoly power that they are now using to coerce parents and taxpayers to dance to their agenda if they want their children to learn.
The proper political response should be to give taxpayer dollars to parents to decide where and how to educate their children. If parents want to use the money for private schools that are open, or for new forms of home instruction, they should have that right. No political force should have veto power over the education of America’s children.