Opinion

Power and politics corrupt WEA image

The Washington Education Association has a serious image problem, and the events of this past week have not been kind to their cause.

Being that I respect the teaching profession so much, I always feel sick to my stomach when I come out criticizing them, but the WEA makes it too easy.

The National Education Association, along with its state affiliates such as the Washington Education Association, seem incapable of impressing the taxpayers with a sense of confidence that they are actually committed to education issues as they claim — or even to the best interests of teachers, which is their primary charter.

Consider what some national polls have revealed in the past. While they show a clear majority of Americans think poorly of our education system as a whole, when asked how they feel about the state of education in their own schools, the results are quite positive. I think it’s because most parents, myself included, really appreciate how hard our teachers and local administrators work for positive outcomes in the classroom. We don’t want to be unsupportive of our teachers.

Yet, time and time again, education unions routinely block sincere efforts and good intentions by the private sector. At the core of these conflicts is always the same ugly animal: Power and politics.

We too often wake up to headlines like the ones this past Tuesday, announcing that our state lost a $13 million grant from a private foundation due to conflicts between the WEA and the grant administrators on how the funds would be disbursed.

Even given their record of incompetence, it is hard to comprehend how the WEA allowed a $13 million grant from a private foundation to slip through their hands. The Dallas-based National Math and Science Initiative (partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) offers the grant to schools across the country that are identified as having higher risk, lower income student populations. The grant is offered to build up Advanced Placement programs by rewarding teachers with necessary funding (including higher pay), with the goal of helping more students qualify for college placement and scholarships.

Seven schools in our state were identified to receive this grant as they have done in past years, but for some reason this year was different. The grant administrators, as is the usual practice, require that they have control over paying teachers based on certain measurement guidelines of student progress. The WEA and its local representatives in certain school districts could not tolerate this practice, as it seemed too similar to that harrowing notion of “merit pay.”

In short, the WEA wanted the flexibility to disburse the grant money across several areas as they saw fit, without oversight. Though they cited Washington state “collective bargaining laws” as being the real culprit, that doesn’t explain why in past years this wasn’t a problem. Several other states (including the conservative, anti-union bastion state of Massachusetts) that receive this grant also have strong education unions and have managed to abide the guidelines.

The WEA, according to current President Mary Lundquist, felt indignant that the donors had the audacity to administer teacher pay without first funneling funds through the WEA coffers. She also referred to the private foundation as being “rigid and uncompromising.”

The gall! That a foundation that has successfully administered this program to several other states, and which graciously offers millions of dollars out of its own goodwill, would not hand it over to the WEA, which so obviously has a track record of fiduciary responsibility…pardon the retching. I couldn’t help myself.

My sour attitude toward unions in general is because I believe that many unions, especially the education unions, have become cartels, less interested in the welfare of their clients and more interested in maintaining their power — at the expense of their dues paying members.

The WEA has given us plenty of examples of how it is willing to undermine teachers to further political power. In recent years, we’ve suffered through the WEA’s tactics, skirting the law by using mandatory dues for political candidate advocacy — against the wishes of its members. The WEA was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court and forced to comply with the law, after hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines failed to get its compliance.

The WEA will continue to have image problems as long as it continues to care more about power than the welfare of students and teachers.

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and further commentary, visit www.soundupdate.com.

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