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As school districts across the country grapple with the question of how to safely and effectively educate students amid a pandemic, teachers unions are making increasingly ridiculous demands, some of which have nothing to do with the health or safety of students, teachers, or administrators.
Take the group United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). That union represents more than 35,000 teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district. Earlier this month, UTLA published a paper calling for schools to remain closed until the district could ensure adequate supplies of protective gear for teachers and students. UTLA also demanded the reconfiguring of classrooms to allow for social distancing.
But that wasn’t it. UTLA also stated that the pandemic requires an immediate moratorium on new charter schools in Los Angeles. How does that protect student or teacher safety? It doesn’t, of course. If anything, the pandemic has revealed the necessity of additional educational options for parents and students.
UTLA didn’t stop there. It is also demanding things that the officials in charge of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) don’t have the power to grant, such as the passage of Medicare for All, new state-level wealth taxes in California, and a federal bailout of the LAUSD—which is struggling to meet pension obligations for retired teachers and staff.*
Without passing judgment on the merits of any of these policies, it is obvious that reopening schools should not be conditioned on Congress totally overhauling the American health care system.
In a related story: schools in Los Angeles will not reopen anytime soon.
Sadly, these nonsense demands are also popping up outside of California. More than 10 teachers unions—including those in Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul—have joined up with the Democratic Socialists of America to say that “schools cannot continue in this crisis without the resources our students need and deserve.”
What sort of demands are being made? For starters, those unions want a national ban on evictions, a moratorium on charter schools, an end to voucher programs, and the abolition of standardized testing. They also want a “massive infusion of federal money”—though it is unclear how much that actually is—paid for by, of course, “taxing billionaires and Wall Street.”
To be fair, the coalition is also pushing some good ideas, like getting police officers out of schools. But what does any of this have to do with safely educating children during a pandemic?
The decision to reopen schools or keep them closed is one that should be made at the local level—and it should of course take the health of teachers into consideration, also while balancing the interests of students, parents, and taxpayers. But all of that can only happen if the teachers unions are willing to bargain in good faith.
State and federal officials can help by expanding educational choice as rapidly as possible. If teachers unions are keeping public schools closed, parents should be provided with alternatives—or, as President Donald Trump has proposed, parents should get their school taxes refunded in full to use as they see fit.
“If Walmart employees strike, you can take your money elsewhere,” says Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice for the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit which publishes this website. “If teachers strike, you should be able to take your child’s education dollars elsewhere.”
It might come to that. On Tuesday, the American Federation of Teachers announced that it would support local unions that decide to go on strike over school reopening plans. Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, told Politico that those “safety strikes” should be a “last resort” for members.
That’s probably small comfort for parents and families who don’t know if their kids will be able to go back to school this year. If the teachers unions are determined to keep schools closed until they can be completely safe—or until Congress passes Medicare for All—then we’re all going to be waiting a while.
CORRECTION: This piece initially claimed the United Teachers Los Angeles was demanding Medicaid for All as a condition of reopening schools. They are seeking the passage of Medicare for All.
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