Jun 26, 2011 6:29 PM GMT
It's stunning to realize how big of a lobby group teachers have become and the funds they command. It's also stunning to look down into the future to see the effect of the deferred compensation in the form of pensions and benefits they were able to negotiate over the years with complicit legislatures. It's a fight that will get nastier - but for the basic reality that there is no more money to spend though they will fight for new taxes to pay for their generous defined pensions and benefits.
Already, national political fundraising ma- chines are beginning to hum and s putter toward early targets in their quest to break another election cycle’s worth of spending records. The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), was the heaviest contributor to U.S. political campaigns in 2007-08, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Early indications show it is a front-runner to be so again. Along with its state affiliates, the NEA took in $1.5 billion in revenue in 2008-09, the Education Intelligence Agency notes. Nearly all of this revenue came from member dues, and most of the war chest will be spent seeking to increase spending and to block those school reforms deemed most threatening to union clout.
The stakes are high, even by contemporary standards. The nation’s annual taxpayer investment in kindergarten-through-12th-grade public education runs over half a trillion dollars and accounts for more than 4 percent of gross domestic product. Meanwhile, teachers union members are starting their summer under the dark cloud of a trillion dollars in unfunded educator pension-fund liabilities.
Having endured a string of high-profile legislative setbacks around the nation, highly politicized teachers union leaders have taken to the airwaves and are prepared to invest heavily in the upcoming election cycle. The teachers unions give mostly to Democrats and in national elections nearly exclusively so. Their legislative agenda for education continues to focus on increasing spending, loosening accountability for results, avoiding the use of test scores in teacher evaluations and thwarting parental choice that could derail the public education monopoly.
In an effort to fight on their own terms, unions have turned to their lawyers. In courtrooms around the country, union attorneys seem to have adopted the legal strategies of segregationists to fight the expansion of charter schools and school choice. In the period immediately following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brownv. Board of Education ruling, opponents of desegregation saw promise in pursuing a strategy of forcing desegregation advocates to win one lawsuit at a time. Obstructionists including Georgia’s Attorney General Eugene Cook proclaimed that they could hold up desegregation in the courts for “generations or centuries of litigation.”