Teachers’ Union Triumphs and Trauma

“Where’s the conservative leadership?” That’s what many Colorado Republicans will be crying out for as 2005 rolls around – maybe even before they’ve finished digesting the turkey sandwiches and fruitcake.

Yesterday Gov. Bill Owens announced his compromise plan to fix the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis. It includes a small tax cut and the state selling its share of the tobacco-settlement plan, not to mention a $500 million “de-Brucing” (allowing the state to keep revenues mandated by TABOR to be refunded to Colorado taxpayers).

But here’s the kicker:

Conspicuously absent from Owens’ proposal were changes to Amendment 23, which requires annual spending increases in K-12 education. For the past year, Owens had insisted that any changes to TABOR must be coupled with changes to Amendment 23.

The new Democratic legislative leadership and the failure to find common ground during the first eight months of this year led to Owens’ new proposal.

“I don’t see much willingness to address Amendment 23 this year. I would be willing to address it,” Owens said.

The #1 problem for the state’s fiscal train wreck is the four-year-old constitutional amendment requiring a growing percentage of the state’s expenditures finance K-12 public education. It’s the sacred cow of the state’s teachers’ union lobby – led by the Colorado Education Association (CEA).

Owens’ proposal is a serious compromise but not much of a plan. (I have to take a stronger position than the Rocky Mountain News’ editorial board on this one.) Without addressing the problems inherent in Amendment 23, there will be no lasting solution to Colorado’s budget problems. As long as the Dems stay in charge of the General Assembly, they’re not going to touch Amendment 23. The vast majority of their caucus is beholden to CEA and its lobbyists – some owe their elections to their support from the teachers’ unions.

While CEA sits pretty, the National Education Association (NEA) is reeling in delusion from the results of the recent election. According to the NEA, “The post-election bad news: budget woes, vouchers, and a blurred line between church and state. The good news: A golden opportunity to reshape the Republican Party.”

This is a fascinating development. The NEA, which hitched its wagon to the Democratic Party three decades ago, now recognizes the firm source of power in Washington. They’re switching their emphasis from fighting education reform via the Democrat opposition to trying to remold the Republican Party from within. Two-word admonition: good luck!

Someone must have inflicted some serious blunt trauma to the heads of NEA leadership if they really believe this:

In the 2004 primary and general elections, NEA recommended 22 Republican hopefuls for the U.S. House and Senate “out of a total of 298 candidates,” notes NEA chief lobbyist Randy Moody. That support can grow, but only if Republican educators “get active in GOP leadership, especially in the ‘red’ states,” he says. “Our members can have a significant impact on party policy.” [Emphasis mine]

Do they really expect the liberal Democrat activists who make up the overwhelming majority of their leadership and manpower to take this sitting down? While the article finally admits what we’ve known all along – that 1/3 of NEA members are Republicans – are we also supposed to believe that all those Republicans are big fans of the NEA agenda? In a lot of states, public school teachers are required to become members of the union, whether they agree with its politics or not. Even in states like Colorado, where teachers aren’t required to join, some belong to NEA/CEA for other reasons and don’t support the politics.

But maybe we can expect to see a mini-civil war erupt within the ranks of the NEA. As the NEA contemplates jumping the Democrats’ ship, here’s a word of warning to the Republican Party: look what 30 years of having them on your side does to your long-term political prospects.

Major hat tip to Mike Antonucci.


  1. says

    My first reaction vis-a-vis Amendment 23 was the same as yours. However, I seem to recall reading something from Mike Coffman indicating that any adjustments to Am. 23–at least through a ballot initiative–have to be statutorily put off until next year. I don’t know if that forces a complete “hands-off”, but I think it limits the possibilities.

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