It’s no secret that the teachers unions have control over most aspects of public education in the U.S. The school boards, which negotiate with unions over salary, work rules, etc. are particularly important for the unions to dominate. To that end, Michael Hartney, a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, recently quantified the unions’ stronghold on the all-important boards.
Hartney asserts that union-endorsed candidates win about 70% of all competitive school board races. Union support helps both incumbents and challengers, and union-friendly candidates also tend to win in both conservative and liberal school districts.
As teacher union watchdog Mike Antonucci notes, union involvement has been going on for years, and it’s been a massive effort. The largest union in the country, the National Education Association, has 13,000 local affiliates in all 50 states. A study conducted by the National School Boards Association found that in 2018, 24% of school board members surveyed were current or former members of a teachers union.
Not surprisingly, California leads in union involvement in school board races. Per Antonucci, in the recent election, the California Teachers Association funded 287 board candidates in 125 school districts – large and small – dispensing more than $1.8 million for its candidates.
The process is simple. The teachers unions fund left-wing school board candidates, who, when they win, then support generous pay and benefits for teachers as well as various radical causes. Then, via union dues, a portion of teacher pay is routed back to the union to start the cycle again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Union leaders clearly know the game. As former Los Angeles teacher union boss Alex Caputo-Pearl once explained, “We have a unique power – we elect our bosses. It would be difficult to think of workers anywhere else who elect their bosses. We do. We must take advantage of it.”
And take advantage they do, but less so than in the recent election. Ballotpedia, the nonpartisan election website, analyzed 361 school board races and found that 36% of candidates who opposed Covid shutdowns, diversity initiatives or the use of gender-neutral learning materials, won their elections. At the same time, the analysis showed just 28% of winning candidates supported those policies, while about a third of candidates in last week’s election didn’t take clear positions on these issues. That 28% is down from elections in April and November 2021, according to Ballotpedia.
One reason the unions didn’t do as well as they did in the past is because many conservative candidates received financial support from political-action committees outside their local school communities or from advocacy groups, such as the 1776 Project PAC and Moms for Liberty, which claims it endorsed 270 school board candidates, with about half of them emerging victorious.
Ground zero for school board upheaval is Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis endorsed 30 school board candidates in the August statewide election. Results show that 19 of his endorsees won outright, and six others who were involved in runoffs won their races on Nov. 8. So, out of the 30 candidates the governor supported this year, 25 won.
Of course, all the usual media suspects are huffing and puffing over DeSantis’ involvement in the school board races. NPR reports that “Florida Gov. DeSantis leads a nationwide shift to politicizing school board races.” A New York Times writer suggests that DeSantis is part of a group of “cynical politicians looking to juice their careers.” One columnist even called the move “a little scary,” asking, “Wouldn’t we rather have candidates who commit to serving our children and local taxpayers/communities first, rather than the governor?”
Could that writer really believe that the teachers unions are actually interested in “our children and local taxpayers/communities first” and not prioritizing their left-wing political agenda? In fact, a new report should dispel any such notion.
The report from the Government Accountability Institute reveals that since 2005, teachers unions have shifted millions of dollars away from efforts to represent their members to political activity, with most donations going in a leftward direction. According to GAI, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers collected approximately $575 million in dues from their members in fiscal 2021. The report found that over the last four years the NEA “has spent more money on political activities and lobbying” than on traditional “representational activities.” In fact, the gap between the two types of spending was not close in 2021, when the NEA spent $66 million on political activities and lobbying, and just $32 million on representational activities, according to the institute’s review of public records. And of course, most of the unions’ political contributions go to Democrats and progressive causes – where children’s needs come last – if at all – making their control over school boards anything but nonpartisan. In the 2022 election cycle, the AFT spent $1,691,018 on Democratic Congressional candidates and a paltry $125 went to Republicans.
As Michael Hartney notes, “By making it easier for citizens to choose candidates whose values align with their own, partisan endorsements such as DeSantis’s help level the playing field.
In more good news from Florida, the NEA state affiliate, the Florida Education Association, lost more than 4,500 members – a 3.3 percent drop – in the 2020-21 school year. By comparison, the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers lost 2.3 and 2.1 percent of their memberships, respectively, in the same school year.
Perhaps the drop in membership was because the teacher union leaders overplayed their political hand the last few years, and thanks to Florida’s rightward turn, the union has been exposed as a leftist political entity.
While traditionally it has been unusual for state-level politicians to get involved in local school board races, what better way to counter the unbridled power of the teachers unions? One can only hope that more conservative elected officials follow suit. Along with the involvement of parent groups like Moms for Liberty, this would portend well for children in the nation’s public schools.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.