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Loosen the grip of teacher unions on policy

Gov.-elect (Michelle Lujan) Grisham recently announced her 31-member team charged with overhauling the state education initiatives instigated by Gov. (Susana) Martinez’s administration. Six of those team members are to be New Mexico teacher union executives.

As they begin their deliberations, I would hope they could all agree the purpose of our public schools is to educate children. Therefore, everything about our schools – how they are staffed, funded and organized to fulfill their mission – should be decided with the best interests of children in mind.

Good teachers should be encouraged and properly compensated, while ineffective teachers should be removed from the classroom. Excellent young teachers should not be laid off while their mediocre colleagues with greater seniority are retained. Parents of children in failing schools should have the right to freely transfer their children to better-performing schools. Charter schools and non-traditional programs should be encouraged and supported so long as programs are meeting educational objectives. Seniority and education credit-based compensation for teachers should be revised to provide incentives for excellence in the classroom. Where public schools are clearly failing, education vouchers for parents should be considered to facilitate alternative public or private programs.

All these steps are in the best interests of children, and yet each and every one is opposed by teacher unions. Unions are not in the business of advocating for the interests of children; rather, they represent the job-related interests of teachers and their own self-perpetuating membership interests. These interests are simply not the same as those of our children.

Teacher unions have been given a prominent role in influencing educational reforms in New Mexico as political payback for the unions’ in-the-trenches manpower and the huge sums invested in getting Democratic candidates elected. Teacher union political contributions are decidedly one-sided, with 95 percent going toward Democratic candidates.

The union influence is not restricted to the state level, however. Albuquerque school board members have been highly dependent upon union support and have largely accommodated union wishes. At the federal level, teacher unions spend more in support of their chosen candidates then any other organizational entity.

The Democratic Party has always prided itself, and rightfully so, as the champion of the working man, minorities and the under-privileged. While many of its initiatives clearly support this constituency, they have failed them miserably in the field of education. It is the very initiatives that teacher unions most oppose that would directly benefit, and in many cases lift, this population out of poverty, if they were allowed to be implemented.

The other members of the governor-elect review team were not identified, but let’s hope that they included solid representation of classroom teachers and principals from our A-rated school districts of Los Alamos, Rio Rancho, Logan Municipal, etc. These are the districts that are thriving and their success stories should be leveraged for the benefit of the state as a whole. Let’s also not forget the boots-on-the-ground staff of our current Public Education Department who have produced one of the most highly rated state plans in support of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requirements. Parents, including those of special education students, deserve a place at the table, as does the business community and, yes, the average taxpayer who will be expected to foot the bill for whatever is decided.

A final plea to our newly elected governor: Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. New Mexico has made measurable progress in improving student performance. Allowing teacher unions to have undue influence in undoing what has proven to be successful is a disservice to all New Mexicans.

Alan Hill has worked for the North Carolina Department of Education, as well as in an education capacity for both Apple and an Indiana non-profit.