Teachers unions are private corporations too

A Miami Herald story this week about the political contributions of teachers unions and for-profit education companies in Florida offers another opportunity to consider the term “privatization.”

The word has become a potent weapon in debates about the continuing customization of public education. But it’s being misused, and needs to be accurately defined so we can have a more meaningful dialogue about the best way forward.

Herald reporter Kathleen McGrory devoted most of her story to the political contributions of charter and virtual school interests. After noting the total contributions from those interests, she framed the piece this way: “Some observers say the big dollars foreshadow the next chapter of a fierce fight in Tallahassee: the privatization of public education.”

McGrory only briefly noted that those contributions pale in comparison to the donations from teachers unions, which are private corporations that sell memberships to teachers employed by school districts. According to the story, a variety of for-profit education interests, including those in the higher ed realm, collectively contributed $1.8 million in this election cycle. Meanwhile, national, state and local teachers unions kicked in $3.2 million.

The Herald story seemed to suggest that teachers unions are not private interests, which is false. And it listed this season’s top private contributor as Academica, the Miami-based charter school company, even though teachers unions contributed far more than the company did.

Privatization occurs when government allows private interests – in whatever form they take – to usurp the public good. Hopefully, the millions put into Florida political campaigns by teachers unions will not cause elected officials to put teacher concerns above those of the public good.

This privatization would be bad for everyone, including teachers.