No such thing as a free lunch? Not if you’re a union lobbyist in Illinois.
As the Chicago Tribune reported:
Two lobbyists with no prior teaching experience were allowed to count their years as union employees toward a state teacher pension once they served a single day of subbing in 2007….
Steven Preckwinkle, the political director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, and fellow union lobbyist David Piccioli…took advantage of a small window opened by lawmakers…. [which allowed the two men] to get into the state teachers pension fund and count their previous years as union employees after quickly obtaining teaching certificates and working in a classroom.
The Tribune reports that based on his salary, Preckwinkle “could earn a pension of about $108,000 a year, more than double what the average teacher receives.” Furthermore, “over the course of their lifetimes, both men stand to receive more than a million dollars each from a state pension fund that has less than half of the assets it needs to cover promises made to tens of thousands of public school teachers.”
While a story like Preckwinkle and Piccioli’s may be rare, it represents the self-interest of unions that far too often stands in the way of the needs of teachers and students.
A September Education Week article reported that teachers are joining a growing number of non-union professional associations. Dissatisfied with unions’ failures to listen to their voices on policy matters, teachers see these organizations as a place where their opinions can be heard.
Evan Stone, co-founder of the New York-based Educators for Excellence, a non-union teacher advocacy group, related his experience working with New York City’s United Federation of Teachers: “We didn’t feel that on the issues where we disagreed [with the union] there was room for debate, or discussion, or dialogue.”
In 28 states, teachers must either join a union or pay union dues. Yet funding frequently fails to represent teachers’ interests. For example, in the 2008 national elections, the National Education Association (NEA) made 91 percent of its political contributions to Democrats, but a survey conducted just three years earlier showed that 50 percent of NEA members said they were “conservative” or “tend conservative.”
Furthermore, teachers’ union fees frequently go to support causes that have little or nothing to do with educating children. Among the non-education issues on the NEA’s legislative agenda for 2009 were support for “family planning, including the right to reproductive freedom; development and implementation of a long-range national energy policy,” and even “legislation to preserve and expand Native Hawaiian land ownership.”
Beyond failing to represent educators’ viewpoints, unions also stand in the way of much-needed reforms, such as tenure reform, merit pay for teachers, school choice, charter schools, homeschooling, and virtual learning.
Illinois cannot afford to pad the pocketbooks of two union lobbyists who played the system for personal gain. And U.S. schools cannot afford to cater to union demands at the expense of students and teachers. At a time when schools are in great need of reform, it is especially critical that education institutions are able to focus on supporting quality educators and promoting the academic success of children.
Matt Larsen is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. Click here for more information on interning at Heritage.