Opinion

Unions have a stranglehold on public ed — while Colorado kids suffer

Author: John Harpole - May 2, 2018 - Updated: May 2, 2018

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John Harpole

Just in case there remained some doubt in anyone’s mind that the Democratic Party’s leftward lurch in Colorado was effectively divorcing the party from any affection it may have had for meaningful education reform, the party f

aithful put those doubts to rest. At the Colorado Democratic Assembly two weeks ago, the participants not only roundly booed Jennifer Walmer, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, but voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling on the organization to remove the word “Democrats” from their name.

In doing so, the state’s Democrats – or at least the virulent left-wing faction that seems intent on overrunning the party – made it very clear that their interest in the education of our state’s children was limited exclusively to the maintenance of the financial health of the teachers’ union; not, unfortunately, in improving education.

The teachers’ union’s stranglehold over the public education system is perhaps the greatest single obstacle that our children face in this state. It is all too difficult for Colorado parents to find a quality education for their children, which not only prepares them for adulthood, but makes them well-rounded, literate individuals who know how to think. These all appear to be qualities that are anathema to the teachers’ unions, or at least very secondary considerations.

A healthy debate is needed over what sort of reforms are required to enable improvements to our education system; but sadly, the union slaps down any such discussion. Any option presented for improvement drains power and influence from their organization, and must be vehemently opposed, regardless of what sort of outcome it may provide for the learner.

School choice, for example — in any form — dilutes the power of the union since parents may choose schools in which the teachers are paid according to the value they provide, not according to the union’s wage chart.  All indicators of educational performance favor the inclusion of private and charter schools into the educational mix; however, for the teachers’ unions the only meaningful factor is the health and continuation of the union.

Opposition to education reform is so central to the teachers’ union’s existence that it has become vicious and vindictive. Consider their reaction to a policy included in the federal tax reduction bill that would allow contributions to the 529 education savings plan to be used for K-12 expenses and tuitions, rather than just for post-secondary. A bill was introduced in the state legislature this year that would have brought state tax law in line with federal, by clarifying that Colorado families could take the deduction for K-12 expenses.  The teachers’ union not only opposed that bill, but they ran another bill that expressly forbid the state from ever allowing such deductions.

The teachers’ unions have decided recently that the best way to promote education is to walk away from their classrooms, like they did in Denver last week. And what were they protesting? The one-size-fits-all homogenization and leveling that the public system encourages? The inability of low-income families to receive some financial relief to permit them the same educational opportunities afforded others? No, they were protesting simple changes to the public pension program (which is, incidentally, bankrupting the state), and calling for more good money to be thrown after bad.

Meanwhile, the kids suffer. In many districts, there are few options for those whom the public schools are failing. Options and ideas exist, but thanks to the intense opposition to reform coming from the marriage of the far left and the teachers’ unions, most gain little traction.  As a result, real educational opportunities remain outside the reach of many Colorado families.

Teaching historically is, and can be, an incredibly honorable profession, perhaps the most honorable there is. However, the public system for teaching in Colorado has primarily become an employment system for adults and not an education system for children.  This has had a predictably devastating impact on education.

There are many options available to improving education and making sure our children have access to the very best — both public and private. There can be natural cooperation; choice fuels competition and improvement which benefits the system as a whole. But with their latest purge of those whom they view as ideological apostates, the teachers’ union’s captive and insurgent left wing of Colorado Democrats have declared that any discussion of reform and innovation is forbidden and have shown that their allegiance is to the union, at the expense of education. As long as the union-centric paradigm holds, quality of education will be at best a secondary consideration, and we will have failed our following generations.

John Harpole

John Harpole

John Harpole is founder and president of Mercator Energy LLC, a natural gas services, brokerage and energy market analysis company. He is former co-chair, along with his wife Lisa, of Seeds of Hope Charitable Foundation.