It is undeniable that the teachers’ unions are wreaking havoc in public education. When media outlets like Newsweek and the New York Times Magazine raise the issue about the negative effects of the unions’ influence, the situation must be dire.
And while most of the news is bad, there is one bright spot. Some teachers are starting to wake up and understand that they are being treated as mere players in a political game at their own expense, both literally and figuratively. Today, more teachers are coming out and speaking up about the devastating impact the union’s political aspirations have on the quality of our public education system.
In May of this year, a former Oakland, California, teacher penned an article entitled, How the Teachers Union Broke Public Education. Alex Gutentag wrote, “at one time, the teachers proudly viewed education as an engine of social mobility. Today, the union is a captured institution, and it argues that the country must be remade for education to even be possible. Favoring ideological indoctrination over academic achievement fundamentally devalues teaching and learning. It is this devaluing that was the nail in the coffin for the school system.”
Similarly, in Maryland, Vann Prime, a current public school teacher, wrote an op-ed asking teachers why they continue to pay union dues. “Independent educators who disagree with even a portion of the unions’ agenda need to realize they are funding a megalithic, authoritarian entity working against their consciences, insulting their professionalism, and damaging their students’ interests.”
While not a mass exodus, this trickle of teachers and support staff leaving the teachers’ unions is growing daily. This is in part related to the work of the Freedom Foundation, a think tank that describes itself as an “action tank.” The non-profit organization was founded in 1991 in Washington state. Over the years, its mission has evolved to focus on defunding public unions.
The Freedom Foundation began to make serious inroads towards eroding the teachers’ and other public unions’ stronghold on employees in 2018 with the Janus ruling. In their Janus guidebook, the Freedom Foundation explains the monumental change for public employees. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. AFSCME that it is unconstitutional to force public employees to fund union advocacy as a condition of employment.” The guide further explains, “under no circumstances may payments from public employees to labor organizations be compelled. This is true regardless of whether the employer deducts the fees or, if the employer does not deduct dues/fees directly from employees’ paychecks, whether a union contends a worker must be discharged for not paying fees directly to the union.”
According to Hunter Tower, the Freedom Foundation’s East Coast Director, “teachers and other public union members are starting to wake up.” Tower is based in southeast Pennsylvania and is responsible for the outreach and education to public school union members. Through his team’s efforts, the Freedom Foundation sends mailers, runs radio ads, posts billboards, canvasses, and holds roundtables intended to reach union members.
Their goal is to educate union members about where their dues actually go and what they fund. Tower says that most union members have no idea about the political agendas that are being funded with their money. He reports that 90 percent of their union dues are not expended on anything related to teachers.
Tower said that it is not their goal to coerce or strongarm anyone into leaving the union. “If a union member is aligned with the political agenda of the union, then they may very well want to remain a member, but there are many members who have no idea how their dollars are being spent. Our job is to educate them and let them make their own decisions.”
Tower’s mission is to defund the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the state teachers’ union. The PSEA through its political action committee, PACE, donates millions of dollars annually to local and statewide races. In 2022, PACE donated over $2.8 million to various candidates, including $775,000 to Josh Shapiro and $90,500 to Matt Bradford. This year, PACE donated another $3,500 to Bradford and he’s not even on the ballot. The PSEA was vehemently opposed to the Lifeline Scholarship program to rescue students from failing schools, and it appears that their financial support of both Bradford and Shapiro contributed to squashing the funding.
The Freedom Foundation assists teachers to opt out of the union when they are ready to make that decision. Over the summer, the think tank hosted its first Teacher Freedom Summit to educate teachers across the country regarding their rights to opt out of the union. At least twelve teachers from Southeast Pennsylvania attended the event.
One attendee and panelist was Karin Majewski, a teacher from Central Bucks School District who opted out of the union in June 2021. Majewski reached out to the Freedom Foundation for information when she decided to leave the union. They provided support and resources to facilitate her exit. Majewski left the union because she was unhappy with how her union dues were being spent. “Their political agenda has nothing to do with supporting teachers or students.” Since leaving the union, Majewski has become a resource and advocate for other teachers and support staff who want to leave.
Majewski brought teachers from the surrounding counties with her to the Education Freedom Summit to help raise their awareness about what the union funds. She describes the union as a “money laundering operation” that uses “scare tactics” to coerce public school employees to join and remain.
She now serves as a resource and support to teachers in the region and even outside the state. Her website provides information for those considering opting out. According to Majewski, the union leaders attempt to intimidate union members so they won’t leave. “The union lays on the guilt and refers to those of us who have opted out as freeloaders. Solidarity is their favorite word to coerce membership.”
Thanks to the hard work of organizations like the Freedom Foundation and individuals like Karin Majewski, union membership is declining. The Foundation announced that July set an unprecedented record for the number of union membership cancellations. “The tune was clear, resonant and powerful, as more than 4,400 public employees chose to exercise their right to opt out of their unions through the Freedom Foundation, marking an all-time high for a single month. Is it a coincidence that this opt-out surge occurred the same month the Freedom Foundation hosted its inaugural Teacher Freedom Summit? We think not.”
Tower and Majewski both believe that this number is lower than the actual number of people leaving the unions. “Not all public school employees leave the union through the Freedom Foundation,” said Tower. “There are other organizations that support these efforts and people like Karin who help as well.”
Currently, the PSEA has 178,000 members, according to their website. Tower reports that this number is dropping as more teachers and support staff opt out.
According to Tower, the Freedom Foundation hopes to put itself out of business. Once the public unions are defunded, they will no longer need to exist. If that objective is accomplished, there might be hope for public education again.
Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at email@example.com.