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Teachers' union abandons 26,000 Michigan school children

There they go again. The Michigan Education Association has pressed their members to abandon Michigan’s classrooms in order to lobby against Governor Rick Snyder’s right-to-work reforms.

Classes were cancelled today in several Michigan school districts to accommodate the absence of hundreds of teachers, who were prompted by the union to call in “sick” to protest right-to-work legislation at the Michigan Capitol.

Twenty-six thousand students are out of school today as a result.

A spokesperson for one of the school districts said the district decided to shut its doors out of concern for student safety, since so many teachers were absent.

The mass exodus of teachers has primarily affected metro Detroit. The last thing Detroit children need is an unplanned day out of school. Just 7 percent of the city’s eighth graders can read proficiently; just 4 percent are on grade level in math.

Yet none of that matters to a union boss who perceives a threat to his power.

And unions in Michigan are powerful. The most recent data available show that the Michigan Education Association spent more than $7 million on political contributions, and that 86 percent of unions’ political contributions went Democrats. Some teachers might take exception to their hard-earned money being used for such partisan political purposes. But if the right-to-work legislation is implemented, teachers will have the option to control how their paychecks are spent.

Union dues range between $600 to $900 per year. Teachers shouldn’t be forced to forgo that money in order to teach.

Establishing a right-to-work law in Michigan will be the beginning of freedom for thousands of teachers across the state. As my colleague James Sherk points out, “Right-to-work laws prevent unions from imposing mandatory fees, giving employees the right to work without paying union dues. Otherwise, right-to-work has no effect on collective bargaining. All other negotiations continue as before.”

The unions recognize that when teachers aren’t forced to hand over their paychecks, that their bloated coffers will get a little lighter. That’s less money the union can use for an overtly political agenda, less money that can go to the plush salaries of union bosses, and a weakened ability to block much needed education reforms in the state.

As such, teachers won’t be the only beneficiaries. Right-to-work legislation will loosen organized labor’s stranglehold on public education generally.

Linda Moore, the President of a local union affiliate in Michigan, said the protests are about “our students’ future.” That would be true only if by “our children” she means those who are forced to attend an assigned government school. Unions consistently use the money teachers are forced to contribute to lobby against reforms -- such as school choice -- that are in the best interest of children.

Governor Snyder’s efforts have the support of the workers that will be affected. Over half of Michigan voters support the effort, and 40 percent of union households are in favor. Yet organized labor’s bosses see this as such a threat to their entrenched power that they will go so far as to leave children sitting at home, or on the streets, when they should be at school.

Sadly, the union’s tactics aren’t new. The educational futures of 5,000 Louisiana children now hang in the balance because the teachers’ union has filed suit against the state’s newly minted voucher program. The Chicago teachers’ union forced schools to shut down this fall for an entire week, in order for education employees to demand an increase to their already extravagant salaries and benefits. Teachers’ unions have tried similar scare tactics recently in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Wisconsin.

Here’s hoping the children’s unscheduled absence from school will be short-lived. Governor Snyder could sign the right-to-work legislation into law as early as today. Not only would that be great news for Michigan workers, but 26,000 children could return to their classrooms.

Lindsey M. Burke is the Will Skillman Fellow in education policy at the Heritage Foundation.