Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Education Minnesota again puts politics ahead of kids

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:37 AM |  

The Star Tribune is reporting today that the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and the St. Paul Federation of Teachers are following the lead of the National Education Association add urging their members not to buy back-to-school supplies at WalMart, because, they say, Wal-Mart has unfair labor practices, pays substandard wages and has a high percentage of workers without health care insurance. According to the article, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers may go a step further and not reimburse its members for any school supplies bought at Wal-Mart.
This is the beginning of a much more in-depth education program, in which we tell our members why and what Wal-Mart does -- not just to small towns, but to workers," said Louise Sundin, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
Elizabeth Mische of the St. Paul-based Partnership for Choice in Education notes in an email that while they may claim that their stance is motivated by Wal-Mart’s labor practices, not to be discounted is that the teacher’s unions “abhor the Walton family’s support of scholarship programs and school choice for low income families. John Walton and the Foundation are on the NEA’s 'enemies list.'”

John Walton died this past June in the crash of a homemade experimental plane he was piloting. In March, Forbes magazine listed John Walton as No. 11 on the list of the world’s richest people with a net worth of $18.2 billion. Walton used some of his wealth to support non-government schools, including Christian schools. In 1998, he and Ted Forstmann founded the Children’s Scholarship Fund to provide tuition assistance for low-income families wanting to send their kids to private schools. The fund has benefited some 67,000 students nationwide and approximately 1,500 children in the Twin Cities (annually).

Locally Walton-funded scholarships that enable low-income parents the opportunity for their children to attend non-district schools are provided through KidsFirst. KidsFirst provides partial tuition grants for youngsters in grades K-8. The fund pays 75% of the tuition, to a maximum of $1,700 (2005-2006) per year to qualified applicants. There are no academic requirements for KidsFirst grants. Eligibility is based on financial need and parents' willingness to pay their portion of the school expenses.

Because applications exceed available scholarships, new applicants are selected by lottery -- some indication of the desire of low income parents to find alternative education for their children. [Tax-deductible contributions to KidsFirst can be made here.]

The recent NEA action is not the first time unionized teachers have taken out after WalMart; it’s just that previous instances were less disingenuous. In 1998, after the formation of the Children's Scholarship Fund, the Wyoming delegation of the National Education Association accused John Walton of bashing public education and siphoning tax funds from public schools. Some members even suggested that the NEA initiate a boycott against WalMart stores.”

John Walton’s recent death seems, perversely, to have energized the unions’ attacks on all who buck the status quo,” said Mische. They are taking an opportunity to put a chill on any contributor to the school choice movement.

The latest action by the teachers unions is just another indication that the system of government schools (not individual teachers) is no longer primarily concerned with education. Its focus is on middle-class employment and teacher career advancement. If it were really about kids, why would Education Minnesota so strongly oppose providing low-income families the opportunity to choose a school that best meets their children’s needs.


A new study released jointly by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation and the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs and authored by Ericca Maas of the Partnership for Choice in Education analyzes the Education Access Grants as originally proposed in the Hann/Buesgens bill this year in the Minnesota legislature. It finds that the legislation targeting financial aid for low-income families that wanted to send their children to private schools would be financially advantageous to the state, to the Minneapolis Public School District, as well as the individual families that would directly benefit.

The study found that because the amount spent by the state on each student using an Access Grant would be significantly less than the amount spent if he/she stayed in Minneapolis public schools, the state would save $3.3 million in the first year and up to a total of more than $41 million over six years.

In addition, for six years after a given student leaves a district school, the Minneapolis Public School District will continue to receive a substantial amount of the exiting students’ per-pupil state aid. This “stability revenue” would have allowed for a smooth transition as low-income families exercise greater educational choice and resulted in a positive fiscal impact for the Minneapolis Public School District of up to $8.2 million in the first year and $9.4 million by the third year.

“The Minnesota legislature missed a golden opportunity,” said Robert C. Enlow, executive director of the Friedman Foundation. “School choice will be a net gain for Minneapolis Public Schools and for Minnesota taxpayers. More importantly, families of those students most in need of a different education environment would have the freedom to find what works best for their children.”

Update: From the Center of the American Experiment --

Center of the American Experiment Distinguished Senior Fellow and former Minnesota education commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke issued the following statement in response to calls by Minneapolis and St. Paul Federation of Teachers union officials to boycott Wal-Mart:

Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers union officials, who are calling for a boycott of Wal-Mart, are suffering from a serious case of misplaced priorities.

“Last year, only 53 percent of Minneapolis public school students graduated on time. And St. Paul’s graduation rate was also well below the state average.

“Instead of engaging in politically-motivated protests against Wal-Mart, which have nothing to do with improving the education of children, union officials should focus more of their time and energy on supporting reforms that will close the achievement gap in their districts.”

Update: Tom Swift and Doug Williams check in on the issue.

Update: King Banaian posts with his usual on-target comments. Also check out Dave's thoughts at Downingworld.

Update: I thought about writing a parody of the teacher's union position, but I couldn't come up with anything foolish enough to boycott that someone might not take it seriously. The Night Writer has come up with a better way to lampoon the issue.