New Report: Students or Salaries? How Unions Choose School Board Candidates
New data show voters have been misinterpreting what union-endorsement really means
New York, NY – This week, a teachers’ strike in Portland, Oregon that kept 45,000 kids out of school for over three weeks finally concluded. The strike’s toll on students and families highlights that the interests of teachers are not always aligned with those of students, which is why the overwhelming influence of teachers’ unions in school board elections is—or at least should be—concerning. In a new Manhattan Institute report, senior fellow Michael Hartney analyzes the political power of teachers’ unions, demonstrating that unions’ chief aim in school board elections is higher teacher salaries and not, as commonly claimed, student achievement.
While voters often assume that union-approved candidates have track records of improving student performance, Hartney uses new data to debunk this myth – showing that unions’ only consistent endorsement criteria is a school board candidates’ record of raising teacher salaries. Robust data from school board elections in states as disparate as California, Florida, and New York anchor his findings.
This difference – between what motivates unions endorsements and what voters take such endorsements to mean – undermines democratic accountability and compromises America’s educational future. To address the problem, Hartney offers three avenues for reform:
- Parent advocacy groups of the sort that emerged during the pandemic can help to hold candidates accountable and inform voters about differences between union-first and student-first agendas.
- Transparency laws can shed light on collective bargaining processes, bringing more attention to the positions taken by school board members vis-à-vis the union.
- Endorsements of student-first school board candidates by popular education reformers in state government, such as governors, will help offset the power that teachers’ unions have in otherwise low-information elections.