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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, July 26, 2016 10:11 pm

Lesson to be learned

David Wolkins

The Indiana State Teachers Association is at it again. It wasn’t enough that in 2009, ISTA was sued for $27 million by the state of Indiana for mismanaging its members’ insurance fund (they settled for $14 million). This time ISTA is spending money on protesters, giving them free shirts, food and baseball tickets if they will come to Indianapolis next week and protest at our convention. You’d think the teachers union would spend more time improving teacher effectiveness than spending money on astroturfing.

This week ISTA and a few other union and left-leaning groups are protesting the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a voluntary state legislator association that counts more than a quarter of all legislators as members. I am proud to be a member and support the principles for which ALEC stands: limited government, free markets and federalism.

ALEC members believe taxpayers should come first. Government is too big and too bureaucratic, and our goal as members is to promote ideas that rein in government overreach, give more money back to taxpayers and promote stable, growing economies. Unfortunately, ISTA and other progressive groups disagree with ALEC members’ ideas to fix government and to improve the education opportunities for students.

I have a hard time believing all teachers walk in lockstep with their union bosses. As a former teacher, I believe other teachers agree that low-performing teachers should not be protected by the system. I also think many teachers support parents having more say in their children’s education. These aren’t radical ideas, but ISTA and the groups protesting ALEC like to paint them as such. What message are we sending to our kids when teachers choose to protest, rather than debate, the ideas and people with which they disagree?

The truth is that ALEC members’ ideas work. As members, we get together three times a year to collaborate and learn from one another about the best policy solutions to issues facing the states. Collaboration, education and personal growth are usually pillars that teachers praise in the classroom. Yet, ISTA is protesting the continued education of state lawmakers, who are here on their own time to learn about successful state policy. It is troubling that teachers wouldn’t want lawmakers to learn more about good policy in other states, and it is a real sign of the union’s misplaced priorities.

This is the same union that this year blocked House Bill 1004, which would have allowed school districts to offer teachers in hard-to-fill areas more money without having to consult a teachers’ union. This is also the same union that protests money in politics yet spent $9,610,632 on Democrats over the past 18 years. Not to mention they’ve hired 48 different lobbyists over the past 10 years. All of this, they say, is to make education better for Hoosier students. Yet of the 525 words on the "who we are" section of ISTA’s website, the word "student" appears only five times. They are all for the students, so long as students’ interests don’t conflict with those of ISTA members.

Thankfully, research on which policies work in other states show us that educational choice programs supported by ALEC members have a record of success across different measures, from test score increases, to parental satisfaction, to better life outcomes for students. ALEC members support more choice for students, because taxpayers deserve a government that looks out for them, not one that dictates how they should live their life.

I am proud to support ALEC. A good government is a limited one, and ALEC members strive every day to make government more efficient, effective and accountable to the taxpayer.