Obama Overturns Roosevelt: What was once forbidden is now required

Michelle McNeil reports in Education Week that states increased the amount of buy-in from teachers unions in round 2 of the Race to the Top competition. After analyzing the Race to the Top applications of the 29 states that entered both Round 1 and Round 2, Ed Week found that union-buy in increased on average by 22 percentage points.

The Obama Administration’s Race to the Top (RttT) initiative won plaudits for encouraging states and school districts to expand charter school operations and develop merit pay plans.  But those positive ideas were undermined by the Administration’s inclusion—late in the process of formulating RttT guidelines—of an extraordinary, undemocratic requirement that teacher unions support state initiatives.  In effect, the Obama Administration gave teacher unions veto power over its major school reform effort.  Earlier McNeil had reported that state and local unions, from Maine to Florida, were using an RttT rule to block school reform.

It is a basic rule of democratic government that private interests should not control public policy.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that perfectly when he opposed collective bargaining within the public sector. “All Government employees should realize,” he said, that “the very nature and purposes of government make it impossible for administrative officials . . . to bind the employer in mutual discussions with government employee organizations.   The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress.”  Even the head of the American Federation of Labor George Meany conceded that “it is impossible to bargain collectively with the government,” an interesting historical fact my colleague Martin West uncovered in a paper I drew upon when preparing my chapter on the rise of the teacher unions in Saving Schools.

Roosevelt’s dictum has long been undermined by collective bargaining between employees and public officials at all levels of government.  But the Obama Administration has gone one step further. It has, without any authorization from Congress, given teacher unions the right to participate in the formulation of RttT policy—separate and apart from the standard collective bargaining process.

Roosevelt’s dictum has been totally reversed.  What was once forbidden is now required.

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