National teacher union leader wants to have a different conversation. Me too.

Editor’s note: This commentary from Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill explores why education choice advocates are working hard to improve public education.

The education news site, The 74, published an article recently on how the pandemic is impacting the education choice movement. The article quoted American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten as wanting “to ‘have a different conversation’ about school choice, one focused on what has worked in private settings during the pandemic — but that also treats public schools less as a commodity that families can buy than as a public good.”

I have good news for Ms. Weingarten. In Florida, we are having that conversation.

We do think public education is a public good. And we think giving all families the ability to match their children with the learning environments that best meet their needs is the best way to achieve that public good. We believe in the power of choice and the ownership that comes when people are empowered to make choices that are important to them and their families.

The government did not assign me a wife. I chose my wife, and she chose me. That doesn’t make either of us a commodity, nor does it undermine the public good because we chose each other rather than being assigned to each other.

The government did not assign me the house I live in or the car I drive. The government does not choose the food I eat, the news I read, or the candidates I vote for.

Like most Floridians, I think the public good is best served by people being empowered to make these choices, even though we sometimes make bad choices. (I often eat a late-night bowl of chocolate ice cream.)

Our current public education system has been producing winners and losers for over 150 years. We think this undermines the public good, which is why education choice advocates are working hard to improve public education. We want a public education system that provides all children with an effective and efficient customized education. We want all children to be winners.

We want to free educators from government regulations than stifle their ability to be creative and innovate. We want teachers to have the same professional opportunities as doctors, accountants, plumbers, and lawyers. If a plumber can own her own plumbing business and a lawyer can own a law office, why can’t teachers own schools?

Teacher unions helping teachers create and own schools will contribute to the public good more than insisting that teachers always remain government employees. Ownership is important, and too often school district teachers feel like permanent renters.

How teacher unions can better contribute to the public good is a long overdue conversation, Ms. Weingarten. The industrial model of unionism teachers adopted from the coal, steel, and auto industries may have made sense in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, but that model is obsolete and should be replaced.

Teacher organizations can and should play an important role in creating and maintaining a public education system capable of delivering on the promise of equal opportunity, but that role requires abandoning a one-size-fits-all industrial unionism that requires teacher unions to put the desires of teachers above the needs of children and the greater public good.

Come to Florida, Ms. Weingarten, and let’s have that “different conversation” you are seeking.