April 3-5 was the Washington Education Associations "Representative Assembly" where the most ardent union supporters gather for a few days of union business.
On the agenda every year is an opportunity for participants to vote on position statements and action items for the union. Here are seven interesting items that passed this year, along with my thoughts.
Business Item 8: Parent choice
No, WEA hasn't reversed its decades of work to fight against education options for families. This business item invites parents to opt their student out of student assessments. But wait, the union says not all assessments should be up to parents; just the ones related to education accountability.
The WEA position must be that parents are wise enough to decide whether an assessment is right for their child, but they are not to be trusted with choosing which school is best for their child.
"...the Association opposes ... federally or state-mandated choice or parental option plans." NEA 13-14 resolutions, Pg. 12
As I've mentioned before, shielding government employees from accountability is a primary purpose of government unions.
A priority which is even more important than dodging accountability is found in....
Business Item 9: Union cashflow
The highest priority of a special interest group which collects money by force for mandatory services is to find more clients to serve under this arrangement.
According to this business item, substitute teachers (who typically have no say in collective bargaining agreements) will be swept into the dues-paying fold in ten more school districts in this year's bargaining.
Business Item 26: Living wage campaign support
In this resolution, WEA has committed to help support, encourage funding for, and publicize these movements to force wage controls for all workers in every industry.
Business Item 28: Pay for the expenses of a union advocacy group
Union officials have an extraordinary cashflow with minimal obligations about how those funds are spent. As you might expect, this can make the union leaders feel like Santa Claus.
We have expressed concerns about the public funded "Labor Education and Research Center," which works on behalf of the special interests of union officials, and this business item to help fund it is of interest.
Business Item 30: Cesar Chavez Holiday
I suppose this is about solidarity. United Farm Workers may need the momentum.
Business Item 31: Statewide strike/day of action in 2014/15
Strikes are illegal, but this agenda item calls for preparing a state-wide school service disruption if wages are not increased for all certificated employees.
Business Item B: Initiative 1351 to increase the number of teachers
The business item extends "full support" to Class Size Counts, a "community-based organization." Since the campaign committee for this initiative is led by the current and former WEA president, it is easy to see why the business item gives the board a blank check: "the level of financial aid and staff involvement will be determined by the Board."
If they really believed reducing class sizes is essential, the unions would stop negotiating contracts with school boards that give teachers pay bonuses rather than smaller classes.
It is also worth noting the initiative is reportedly based on HB 2589/SB 6438, which does not guarantee any reduction in class size, only an increase hiring. Nobody (including the NEA) knows what overall class sizes are—only the employee to student ratio. The actual class size is a function of local decisions about how many teachers actually teach and how much of the school day they spend teaching. Currently Washington state pays for one teacher for each 19 students.
Finally, I wonder whether class size matters as much as getting an effective teacher.