Taking On the Teachers Union

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(This week is National School Choice Week). They will promote private, parochial, charter, and virtual schools and home schooling, and provide vouchers and scholarships to permit the poor and middle class to afford them.

Over the next two years in these states, public schools will face real competition for students for the first time. Just as our colleges maintain standards of excellence in order to attract good students, so our lower schools will have to do the same.

As states grapple with intractable budget problems, the attractiveness of alternative schools that cost, on average, about one-third less than public schools will be irresistible. The teachers unions will run afoul of Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that socialism cannot succeed because, sooner or later, “you run out of other people’s money.”

Missing from this list of innovative states, conspicuously, is New York state, where the state government is totally beholden to the teachers union. No experimentation, no opening of the system seems in the offing, and the Empire State appears to be content to continue its downward spiral. If they don’t turn things around, they are headed for the same place as Detroit.

The real question is: Can our cities and states free themselves from the ropes with which the unions have bound them? The problem is that states cannot abrogate contracts. It’s in the Constitution. But a federal bankruptcy court can. So to free ourselves of the ties that bind, we need Congress to create a procedure for federal Chapter 9 voluntary bankruptcy for states. When that initiative is coupled with the school-choice policies of the new Republican governors, the teachers union will have lost its power, and then we can have the kind of schools Obama professes to dream about. But not before.

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