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Students, not teachers unions, should be at the center of education

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An explosive analysis published in the National Review revealed that school districts where teachers unions have an out-sized influence were more likely to close schools during the pandemic. It is no coincidence that in districts where parents’ voices are diminished teachers unions pushed for virtual learning and got away with it. I am appalled that so many school districts prioritized teachers unions over their students. This is a pattern that must end.

We were falsely told by the media that school districts were “following the science” and that COVID-19 case numbers and community spread would determine whether a school re-opened for in-person learning. This was not the case. Instead, districts with a history and pattern of favoring teachers unions over students were far more likely to choose remote learning last year. Obviously, these districts followed politics, not science.

These school closures disproportionately affected schools that serve minority and low-income communities. Democrats claim they want to eradicate inequity but completely ignore the plight of minority students when those students become politically inconvenient. This is the definition of hypocrisy. We can’t ignore the fact that shuttering schools has created a massive amount of learning loss. Millions of already struggling students are now more behind than ever. Over half of public school teachers admitted school closures have caused significant learning loss for students. The results of these months out of school will have long-lasting affects. One report estimates that K-12 students who suffered from school closures will lose 3 percent of their income over their lifetime.

As an educator, I have been concerned about the effects of school closures for months. While virtual learning might work for some students, there is also clear evidence that it can have negative effects on some children’s mental, emotional, physical, and academic wellbeing. It is important to ensure that families and students have choice when it comes to education. Bolting school doors takes that choice away. We can’t let our children’s futures be held hostage by teachers unions.  

It’s been clear since Jan.  20, 2021 that teachers unions have the backing of the White House. This is no surprise, as the first lady is a member of the National Education Association, the largest labor union in the country. As a presidential candidate, it was evident that teachers unions favored Joe Biden’s candidacy, giving him far more campaign donations than any other candidate. Whereas then-candidate Biden received $232,000 in 2020 from teachers unions, no other candidate even came close. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got the second highest amount from teachers unions at a mere $50,996. President Biden was a clear favorite, and he has more than repaid the favor.

President Biden has continuously kowtowed to teachers unions since taking office. The White House bent over backwards to coordinate its school reopening guidelines with demands from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), even asking the president of AFT to help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with language on school reopening guidance.

If school districts and the federal education establishment are going to choose teachers unions over America’s students, families should not feel obligated to stay in this broken system. These problems aren’t going to go away after the pandemic is over. Data suggests that students from districts that historically prioritize teachers unions had worse learning outcomes, even before COVID-19. These students on average test a full year behind those in student-centric districts and are also at a greater risk of dropping out of school. Democrats can’t keep using the pandemic as a scape goat. The problems in education are bound to persist until they are willing to do what works for students instead of prioritizing teachers unions.

We need a new era of education — one that puts students before bureaucracy. This means Democrats putting students ahead of teachers unions. And it means giving all families the power to find the right educational option for their child. This will happen only if politicians have the guts to stand up to powerful teachers unions.

Virginia Foxx is ranking member of the Education and Labor Committee.

Tags Bernie Sanders Education Joe Biden Pandemic Remote learning School choice teachers unions Virginia Foxx

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