Opinion: At Chicago’s teacher strike no one is thinking about the children

My latest post for NBC Latino.

When school children start paying union dues, then perhaps they can expect unions to represent their interests. And as the Chicago Teachers Union goes on strike in perhaps one of the most union-friendly states in the country, one has to wonder what the CTU is thinking. It’s certainly not the children.

Almost one in four children in K-12 education in the United States is Latino, as well as one in six students in higher education. In some states, like Texas, more than 40 percent of Latinos are underage and will rely heavily on a quality education for greater opportunities in their futures. Since Latinos will be the engine of population growth in the country as a whole for at least the next two generations, we should be concerned about the impact unions have on the quality of education.

And before union cheerleaders start posting links to school rankings by states who are union friendly, its important to note that not all unions are created equal. Not surprisingly, unions in minority districts may be less equal than those in white districts.

Perhaps this is a function of bureaucratic response to academic needs that arise from social issues endemic in low-income communities. More problems means more programs to deal with them, and more programs requires more administrators, which may mean less money spent on books and instruction.

Perhaps, there is more inertia in larger bureaucracies in responding to problems that would otherwise be addressed by smaller districts with more flexibility than is characteristic of mega-districts in New York and Los Angeles.

There is no doubt that school districts are hobbled by their past commitments in retirement benefits. In yet another example of our baby-boomer generation pulling up the ladder behind them on their way out, Latinos will need to manage their education in an environment where older Americans no longer prioritize the value of an education.

And as Latinos look to the Democrats for help, all too often there is none, because union power is so firmly entrenched in the party. This year, three bills in California that would make it less cumbersome to fire teachers who sexually abuse their students were defeated by Democrats. Ironically, one of the sponsors was Alex Padilla, a Latino Democrat who went to school in a district where sexual abuse by a teacher was being protected by the unions. Yet he was alone, who along with Republicans could not get the bills out of committee.

But unions have also become a convenient punching bag for pushing an agenda against investment in education, and for promoting free-market solutions, such as charter schools, that are supposed to save money while improving student achievement.

Yet, so far there is no evidence that charter schools are superior to a public education. There is evidence, however, that charter schools are re-segregating minorities, while reallocating funds away from public education. And this may ultimately be the impetus for the charter school argument within the GOP.

This leaves Latinos who live in urban settings with a decision between public school systems dominated by unions whose first priority is protecting the jobs of their members, and a charter school system whose purported fruits are designed to be out of their reach.

Similar to unions, those pushing charter schools are not prioritizing children, but an ideology committed to a system where their constituents happen to make out with the lions share of the public coffers.

On Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone is inscribed what he thought were his two greatest achievements, his role in authoring the Declaration of Independence and his founding of the University of Virginia. Given his many accomplishments, it’s telling that one of our greatest intellectuals thought so highly of public education.

Public unions may not be the answer to a better education, but true conservatives in the American tradition would also be hesitant to put the soul of a democratic country in the hands of merchants.

There are no easy answers, but unions are making it easier for us to look elsewhere for solutions, and that is a shame.

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