This month marks the first time Michigan public school teachers have had the choice to opt out of the union in decades. Some teachers are hesitant to change their union status. Five reasons teachers might want maintain their relationship with the Michigan Education Association (MEA).
1) Education is fine the way it is. Standards are high enough and test scores adequate. No organization knows education better than the MEA, and only with them will Michigan schools grow stronger.
2) Your job will be threatened, and dropping out of the union will compromise your pay.
3) Your school administrator tells you to stay.
4) You hope to support the MEA’s philanthropy causes, and the MEA offers you a voice in the public square.
5)Taxes are adequately covering the cost of education, and opting-out will send less funding to schools.
These are indeed reasons. But let’s consider whether they are reasons that are not only valid – but also beneficial to Michigan education.
1) Michigan boasts that it is not ranked last among the 50 states, but student scores have been on a downward trajectory. A study conducted by Education Trust reported that Michigan students scored 35th in fourth-grade reading and 41st in fourth-grade math (n 2003, they were 28th and 27th respectively). And, in the case of black students, Michigan actually did fall into last place out of 45 participating states. The MEA has stifled innovation that has been successful in other states, resisting efforts to use new education models, like charter schools. Stanford University determined that Michigan charter schools are moving ahead of traditional public schools by an annual rate of two to three months, though the union continues to reject any proposal for a more competitive education system.
1) Right-to-work laws don’t fire employees, they simply give them a choice. This choice has the potential to reward your hard work, as it makes it easier for schools to recognize good teachers. Additionally, right-to-work states “were responsible for 72 percent of all net household job growth across the U.S. from June 2009 through September 2012.”
2) You might be the first to make the change, but not for long. There is strength in numbers—this is the logic unions have successfully used for years. Though the numbers may currently favor unionization, studies in previous states demonstrate that once right-to-work laws are passed, the numbers shift in the other direction. In right-to-work states, 6.7 percent of the population belongs to a union, whereas in non-right-to-work states the percentage is 14.2 percent.
3) If you want to donate to charities through the MEA, know what you are funding. Consider Claire Waites’ story. She donated to the Children’s Fund only to discover that all of her money went to the Obama campaign. If you want to join the MEA’s political causes, the union might be for you. But, why not give to the election directly? And, why give to an organization that isn’t always transparent with their funding?
4) Thirty percent of Michiganians’ tax dollars already go to education, and even with annual spending of $20 billion a year (the third highest in the country), Michigan teacher pension plans are underfunded by a $22 billion.
If you want to stay in the union, that is your choice. But now that you have a choice, it is worth considering what’s at stake—for your own well being, the education of your children, and Michigan’s long-term recovery.