Image: George Skidmore

School Choice Changes How Teachers Strike

Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Washington is delaying its first day of school due to the teacher’s strike. Many parents are frustrated with their tax dollars being spent on empty schools with picketing teachers. It’s even more frustrating that many of these parents don’t support the one thing that would change these strikes: School choice. Unions hate school choice because they know it would make strikes harder to organize.

They also hate it because teacher’s actually need to care more about the students than their unions. There’s no question that most great teachers care about their students. But the unions aren’t really thinking about the kids. Rather, their interests lie in getting the best pay and benefits for teachers. Why, then, do they act like they’re doing what’s best for kids?

Why teachers are on strike

Plain and simple, teachers in the Evergreen School District are striking because they want better compensation. According to KATU News in Portland, “The current offer on the table from the district includes…a total salary average of $79,393. The starting salary for a new teacher would be $50,687, while the most experienced teacher would receive $96,045, which includes an additional 2.0 percent longevity increase.” The cherry on top is the fact that this school district’s teacher compensation is the highest in the state and will remain to be after negotiations.

According to the Social Security Administration, about half of working adults earned $30,000 or less in 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median wage for those holding a master’s degree was $1,401 per week, or $72,852 per year. It seems that new teachers want to earn the median wage, which is statistically close to the average. They fail to realize that the median or average is often earned closer to the midpoint in one’s career. Additionally, the district’s average currently being offered is nearly $7,000 more per year than the average master’s degree holder and the teacher’s are still striking? This raises several questions.

Why are they so discontent with wages, especially since they’re the highest paid district of teachers in the state? The Washington Policy Center released a policy note, finding that “teachers in Evergreen (Clark) School District are paid on average $66 an hour, including benefits” and that “workers who pay their salaries are paid on average $33 an hour, including benefits.” On top of that, they claim “the current compensation system for teachers is not fair to teachers or students” since “49 percent of employees [in this district] are teachers.”

How school choice changes this

What exactly will school choice do to prevent this? For starters, it takes the power away from the unions and gives it back to the parents. With educational funding following each child, parents can decide for themselves whether or not a school is doing its job and educating their kids. Naysayers say this is a bad idea, but we must also consider the fact that legacy media became concerned with online news sources. Why were the newspapers and news stations concerned? Because the people would be able to choose what news was important to cover — they wanted that control. Unions and special interests are no different in this regard.

Not only would teachers strike a little more carefully, parents who complain about PTA meetings would also have more power. The teachers in PTAs would actually have to do something. If teachers decided to strike, they would have to find a way to do it that doesn’t adversely affect their students. After all, parents have work schedules they need to adhere to and delaying the start of school can interfere with that. If you were among the highest paid public schoolteachers in your state, which would you prefer: A decent salary or no salary? Parents have the power to move their kids elsewhere, putting bad schools at risk of closure.

Students at Rothesay Netherwood School in front of Collegiate Hall, the main administration building. (Creative Commons)

Dispelling school choice myths

Some who read the last sentence in the previous section are likely thinking, “A-HA! You do want to close schools!” Firstly, I don’t want to close schools. Secondly, it’s highly unlikely that a school would actually close. It’s far more likely that a school would get rid of bad teachers to avoid closing down. There’s no excuse for a school to keep a bad teacher that refuses to even try to improve (yes, they do exist). You would expect no less from any other institution. Why expect any different from your kids’ schools?

Another popular boogie man in school choice is the idea of school vouchers. Some people believe that private schools would get most, if not all, public education money while public schools are forced to close. As I previously stated, public schools wouldn’t shut down because they would actually have to do their job to stay open. After all, students in Michigan are suing the state because they were never taught to read. If you support those students, you support school choice.

How would it make you feel to know that a federal judge stated that the Constitution doesn’t require schools to promote literacy? That’s exactly what happened in Michigan. School choice would be far more effective in solving this problem. As soon as the problem was discovered, parents could’ve had the choice to move their kids to a school that would’ve helped them learn to read. Instead, they were stuck in a school that didn’t teach them. This is far worse than bad teachers finding themselves unemployed.

Vouchers and private education aren’t evil

In the long run, educational vouchers aren’t a bad idea. This is partially thanks to income inequality — poorer families won’t be able to afford private school no matter what. It would, however, give middle class parents a better shot putting their kids in a private school. This would immediately make public class sizes smaller, giving these poorer “disadvantaged” kids more individualized education. Perhaps more schools would pop up, giving more choices to parents and lowering the cost of a private education. This is how the market works.

Nobody seems to care that education is largely private other than classroom. Take a look at your kid’s textbooks sometime. Were they published by a public entity? No. They’re likely McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Scholastic, or even Cengage. These are all private corporations! Yet, people balk at private schools becoming prevalent? Why? Is it because Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are secretly becoming horrible, trashy schools? We’ll never truly know, but the answer likely lies within teacher’s unions.

School choice has a lot of positives that it’s hard to argue in favor of our current system. To be clear: School choice doesn’t mean that you can’t put your kid into another public school. The “choice” is for parents who recognize which school is best for their child. Currently, you usually need to live within a school’s boundary before enrolling. This greatly limits a parent’s choice to help their kids.

Parents deserve the power to effectively advocate for their kids. Our current educational system doesn’t allow for this. Instead, it allows for cronyism with public unions. Let’s not forget: A raise for teachers is often a raise for their unions. It’s no wonder that these unions push for higher wages. Interestingly enough, in the name of politics, parents willingly give themselves Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to public education. We can’t make any meaningful changes until these parents open their eyes.