Overcoming Opposition to School Choice

Published December 1, 1998

“I’ll start representing kids when kids start paying union dues.”
Al Shanker, former AFT President

California Gov. Pete Wilson quoted Al Shanker when he focused on teacher unions as the key opponents to school choice in his keynote address to participants at the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation’s October conference. Wilson noted that during his term of office alone, a quarter of a trillion dollars had been spent on California schools, which he described as “erratic”–“superb” at its best, but “grievous” at its worst.

“Is it lack of money that causes lack of accountability? Is it lack of money that causes almost violent opposition to the testing of teachers?” he asked.

The California Teachers Association opposed statewide testing of students and merit pay for teachers, both of which would have brought greater accountability to the public education system. According to Wilson, two key elements are required to overcome the teacher union’s opposition to school choice: paycheck protection and accountability.

“Checkoff is a ripoff,”said Wilson, describing the need for paycheck protection to overcome the enormous cash advantage the teacher unions have over choice advocates. With paycheck protection, an individual teacher’s approval would be required before dues used for political activities could be deducted from the teacher’s paycheck. Now, all dues are deducted automatically, generating over $1 billion a year for the National Education Association alone.

At the same time, those who need school choice must step up and demand accountability from teachers.

“Only when we’ve established accountability can we focus on parental choice,” said Wilson.