In Douglas County, Colorado, the front line of the fight for school choice and vouchers on the SCOTUS level, Republican voters outnumber Democrats about two to one. Yet until recently, Republican taxpayers in this peaceful suburb south of Denver were unwittingly paying about $1.25 million a year to fund Democrats’ political campaigns.
How so? Most of the district’s 4,300 plus teachers belonged to the local American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union, to which they paid about $1.25 million in dues annually, according to the union’s IRS filings. Since teachers’ salaries are paid by the county’s property tax payers, their dues come out of those salaries. So the $1.25 million annual dues end up in the coffers of the AFT and that money is funneled to the campaigns of Democrats running for office. That’s a lot of Republican-bashing TV campaign commercials and mailers.
The AFT and its allied union, the National Education Association (NEA) are among the country’s biggest contributors to Democrat candidates and political groups. From 2004 to 2016 their donations ballooned from $4.3 million to over $32 million – a new high. And 94% of that money goes to Democrats.
Which is especially galling for Douglas County Republicans because 60% of them voted for Donald Trump, even while they were funding Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign through their teachers’ union dues.
In the current Douglas County school board election, the AFT is spending big bucks to get its power and influence back after the union and the conservative board ended their contract a few years ago. In their desperation to elect the pro-union “Dream Team” slate, according to the Secretary of State’s Tracer website, the AFT has donated $300,000 to a local group, Douglas Schools for Douglas Kids; the political surrogate for the union candidates.
The national teachers’ unions have long interfered in Colorado’s elections, trying to boost pro-union school board candidates and sink conservative, reform-minded board members. They poured over a quarter million into Douglas County’s school board race in 2013 and over $285,000 to defeat the Jefferson County conservative board in a recent recall election.
The “Dream Team” ticket which recently renamed itself “CommUNITY” won’t talk about its big bucks union funding. Its four candidates claim to be financed only with “small contributions” from “friends and neighbors” but they well know the huge union machine is busily promoting their agenda by bigtime spending on anti-school-choice mailers, TV and radio ads, attacking the pro-choice “Elevate Douglas County” candidates: Randy Mills, Ryan Abresch, Debora Scheffel, and Grant Nelson.
The main issues are school choice and merit pay for teachers, both of which are poison apples for the union. For the past eight years, the mostly conservative school board has created reforms that improved high school graduation rates from 83.1 percent in 2010 to over 90 percent in 2016. Students are performing well in most tests and SAT scores are up. Though the anti-reform candidates scream about a fictional “mass teacher exodus” as a result of the new pay-for-performance system, actual district statistics show over 95 percent of the teachers rated “highly effective” are staying along with more than 89 percent of those rated “effective.” But none of the teachers rated “ineffective” have chosen to return.
Isn’t that what all parents should want – the worst teachers leaving and the best ones staying? Under union rules where salary is based on longevity not merit, this can’t ever happen – there’s virtually no way to fire an incompetent teacher or reward a great one.
The union reached its iron hand into all aspects of the Douglas County school system until 2012, when the conservative “reform” school board voted to stop wasting staff resources by deducting union dues from district teachers’ checks and sending the money to the union mothership in D.C. to elect Democrats. The board also refused to keep paying $300,000 a year to local union executives for not teaching.
These issues were deal-breakers for the union, and the board ultimately voted to end their contract. Though teachers can still belong to their Douglas County Federation (AFT), about a third of the over 3,000 union members dropped out when given the chance.
The unions are salivating over this election as a revenge play to regain their influence, money, and grip on Douglas County schools. Currently the school board has a slim 4-to-3 pro-choice conservative majority. If even one of the four pro-union anti-choice “Dream” candidates wins, a new, left-leaning, anti-reform majority will repay the unions for their lavish $300,000 campaign gift by welcoming back their rigid, old-fashioned rules that reward teachers by time served, not merit.
Unions hate school choice and competition so parents’ options will wither, too. Douglas County presently enjoys a creative array of 15 public charter schools that give parents the ability to focus on their students’ special talents and interests such as the STEM fields, classical education, the arts, languages, and more.
But if even one pro-union candidate triumphs, we can expect to see financial resources withheld from those public schools in favor of “traditional” schools. And the union shills sitting in the school board catbird seats will end the pilot voucher case that the Supreme Court in June kicked back to the Colorado Supreme Court, admonishing the judges to reconsider their rejection of the county’s choice program which would also include faith-based schools.
Ossified, outdated union policies will be firmly back in control of our kids’ education. The same outmoded, antique system that has for decades failed our kids, plunged our nation’s education system into mediocrity, and caused the U.S. to sink in educational ratings compared to other countries.
Joy Overbeck is a Colorado journalist, author and Townhall columnist who has contributed to The Washington Times, The Daily Caller, American Thinker, BarbWire and elsewhere. More columns: https://www.facebook.com/JoyOverbeckColumnist Follow her on Twitter @JoyOverbeck1