Policy Documents

Are Unions a Benefit or Obstacle to the Education of Children?

Liv Finne –
May 1, 2011

This Policy Brief is an adaptation of a presentation Liv Finne delivered at Western Washington University’s Woodring College of Education on April 20, 2011. She was part of a panel discussion titled “Are Unions a Benefit or an Obstacle to the Education of Children?” Joining her on this panel were Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association (the state teachers’ union) and Professor William Lyne, President of the United Faculty of Washington.  Over 100 people attended the forum, including College of Education students, union leaders, teachers, school administrators and interested members of the public. (Watch the panel discussion online here.)

Liv began her presentation with the observation that today the main obstacle to improving public education is the power of the union in the system.  This power is symbolized by the Common School Manual, the five pound, four-inch thick book that contains all the laws, rules and regulations that smother the ability of teachers and principals to provide the best education for children.  Her main points were:

  • Schools do not need more money.  Education spending in Washington is up 38% since 2003, but test scores remain flat.
  • Only 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom in our state.
  • The majority of school employees are not teachers.
  • 87 school reforms enacted in our state since 1993 have failed, at an added cost of $5 billion.
  • Nearly 60% of K-12 students in Washington attend low-performing schools.
  • 32% of public school students drop out.
  • 37% of students who do graduate are not prepared for college-level work.
  • The state teachers’ union receives about $70 million a year in education funding as mandatory member dues.
  • The union opposed Obama Administration reforms, costing Washington $250 million in Race to the Top funds.
  • The union has blocked all major school reforms in Olympia, such as charter schools, merit pay, firing low-performing teachers, and putting principals in charge of their schools.