Teacher’s union political power is destroying kids’ future

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By Dan Sears

For an example of how public-sector unions use their political power to boost their own interests exclusively, all the while pretending it’s purely for the public good, it’s hard to beat the United Federation of Teachers.

Declining enrollment in city Department of Education schools put the union in a pickle: Its membership would naturally shrink because fewer students means fewer teachers.

Most of the enrollment drop is pure demographics: fewer kids being born in the city. But part of it is families fleeing the DOE schools over the ongoing war on excellence (reduced opportunities for top students) and these schools’ disastrous performance during the pandemic.

Some history: UFT membership now stands at roughly 189,000, already down from the all-time high of 192,467 in 2020. (It was under 164,000 in 2010 but got a huge boost from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pre-K and 3K expansions.)

Meanwhile, total DOE K-12 enrollment is down about 200,000 from its most recent high, and 100,000 over just the past few years.

No union wants to shrink. And this also threatens current UFT leadership, since it would naturally mean a greater share of the voting membership would be retirees — many of whom are furious over the leaders agreeing to force them into Medicare Advantage plans so the city can find the money to pay working teachers more.

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The UFT’s solution? Get its pawns in the Legislature to pass a law mandating smaller class sizes only in New York City.

Group of school kids with teacher sitting in classroom and raising hands.
Total DOE K-12 enrollment is down about 200,000 from its most recent high, and 100,000 over just the past few years.

Smaller classes require more teachers — at least 17,700 more when the law’s fully implemented, per the city Independent Budget Office, which says that will cost taxpayers $2 billion a year.

Some advocates claim smaller classes are better for learning, but it also means settling for a greater number of mediocre or bad teachers, since principals have no choice but to go with whomever they can hire.

As an added benefit to the UFT, it means more classrooms needed, a factor the union’s using to try to prevent the DOE from providing space to expanding charter schools. (The union despises charters because they’re rarely unionized “but” vastly outperform the DOE schools — which parents and kids love.)

By the way, the UFT is also working with its Albany pawns to chip away at Mayor Eric Adams’ control of the DOE, which just got watered down more while being renewed for only two years, and with the class-size law as an added poison pill.

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The union also this year got the City Council to override modest budget cuts at DOE schools with plummeting enrollments after the council had already OK’d them.

Yet the mayor shrugged it all off to give the union’s members fat pay hikes and bonuses (of up to 20%) under a new five-year, $6.4 billion labor contract, with zero provisions for increasing teacher productivity. negotiated by City Hall and the union last month.

Eric Adams
Eric Adams gave the union’s members fat pay hikes and bonuses (of up to 20%) under a new five-year, $6.4 billion labor contract.

Yes, that roughly matches the gains for all the other municipal unions in the current round of labor negotiations, which along with other challenges has the city facing a $17 billion shortfall in a few years. But those other unions at least aren’t waging cold war on Adams’ overall policies.

Plus, it rewards teachers even though their schools are producing ever-worse results.

We can understand Adams not wanting to go head-to-head with the UFT when he has so much else on his plate. But, with Albany (including the State Education Department) firmly in the union’s pocket, that leaves no one standing up to a union that’s sucking ever more cash from the taxpayers even as it ensures the children it pretends to care about learn ever less.

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