Opinion

DON BRUNELL: Double standard exists in education

Recently, the Associated Press reported that hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid full salary with benefits to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just doing what they please.

Why? Because their union makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fire them. So they are banished to the so-called “rubber room” waiting for months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

In New York City alone, taxpayers are forking over $65 million a year to pay their $70,000 annual salaries plus benefits. The city’s Department of Education puts the problem square at the feet of the union. “It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded them in their contract,” reports Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the department.

The problem is nationwide. In Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest school district has 178 teachers and staff being housed while their misconduct charges are being resolved.

The union’s protectionist practices and inflexible work rules are what employers in America fear most about President Obama’s push to bypass secret ballot elections in the workplace and allow union organizers to come into a business, watch while people sign cards authorizing a union and automatically set up a bargaining unit.

It goes even farther because union leaders want to impose gag rules on employers to keep them from communicating with workers about unionization. For example, despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to the contrary, Oregon’s state Legislature just passed a version of the gag rule which is certain to be challenged in court. Similar legislation is hanging around Olympia, as well.

How will America survive in this competitive world if our public education system is tied in knots by union rules?

President Obama, like his predecessors Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, bypassed the public schools and put his children in private schools. For example, Sasha and Malia attend the Sidwell Friends School; however, many other children cannot afford the school’s $7,500 tuition without government vouchers. Two of their classmates are Sarah and James Parker who rely on the vouchers to attend Sidwell.

That very voucher program may end thanks to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illionois). Known as the “Durbin language,” the provision mandates that the scholarship program ends after the next school year unless Congress reauthorizes it and the District of Columbia approves. The beauty of this language is that it allows opponents to kill the program simply by doing nothing.

William McGurn, who writes the “Main Street” column in the Wall Street Journal, wrote that the Parkers and 1,700 other low-income students will lose their access to a good education if Durbin and his allies get their way. And it points to perhaps the most odious of double standards in American life today: The way some of our loudest champions of public education vote to keep other people’s children – mostly inner-city blacks and Latinos – trapped in schools where they’d never let their own kids set foot.

This double standard is largely unchallenged by either the teachers’ unions or the press corps. For the teachers’ unions, it’s a fairly cold-blooded calculation. They’re willing to look the other way at lawmakers who choose private or parochial schools for their own kids – so long as those lawmakers vote to reject vouchers and keep the union grip on the public schools intact.

So if the unions are unbending in their contracts and insist on protecting bad teachers and if politicians let voucher programs just slip into oblivion, where is the hope that America’s education system will provide the opportunities for our children to reach their potential?

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.

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