My friend and former newspaper colleague, Chuck Malloy, recently wrote an article about the Idaho Education Association that continues an Idaho media tradition of miscategorizing the IEA’s place in the state’s policy arena. The chief problem with Malloy’s commentary is the same one that plagues the Idaho news media generally: Writers cover the IEA as though its mission is to improve public education. Accordingly, reporters often seek the organization’s thoughts on education, as though it has an impartial, scholarly viewpoint to offer.
Let’s set the record straight: The IEA is a labor union, and as a labor union it is concerned about its power and the maintenance of it. The union has a long track record of fighting for as much money as it can possibly shovel into the education system and to oppose almost any proposal that would diminish its control or give parents more say in how their kids are educated.
When the Legislature convenes in January, Malloy wrote, “We’ll hear the usual cries that quality education does not depend on the amount of money spent. The Idaho Education Association, which fights for more education dollars, happens to agree with that point.” Malloy summarized IEA president Kari Overall’s stance thusly: “It doesn’t matter if Idaho is at the bottom of most funding categories nationwide, or somewhere in the middle.”
The record is absolutely clear on this point. The union has always equated more money with better results, though it disregards evidence to the contrary. Earlier this year, in response to Gov. Brad Little’s budget proposal, Overall released a statement that made the usual imprecise laments that Idaho’s per-pupil spending is “near the bottom of the nation.” And that’s been the organization’s unwavering stance for as long as I can remember: More money solves problems and Idaho should spend more than other states.
But, the IEA’s interests extend far beyond money for schools. Did you know that Idaho law gives the IEA’s lobbyists and staff the same pension as the people who work for the government? That means taxpayers are forced to guarantee the retirement benefits of a special interest group and its workers who seek to influence state government.
Did you know, despite being a right-to-work state, Idaho labor unions have outsized influence in school districts? They do so because many years ago the IEA convinced the Legislature to require that school boards negotiate collective bargaining agreements with union officials? The only real hurdle to the mandatory collective bargaining requirement is that a labor union prove that it represents, for negotiation purposes, a majority of the professional employees.
Proving a majority is a fairly inconsequential barrier; the union uses proven Big Labor tactics to coerce employees into going along. What’s more, state law says that where a union has a collective bargaining agreement, it’s illegal for individual teachers to negotiate their own contracts with the school that employees them. The IEA works tirelessly to keep lawmakers from tinkering with its legal power position in Idaho’s school districts.
When I was a young reporter, I originally believed that the Idaho Education Association was chiefly interested in a quality education for students and, like a lot of other journalists, I too sought the IEA’s viewpoint on things related to Idaho’s education system—spending, class size, education choice, and so on. I’m not so young anymore, and neither is Malloy. We both have been around long enough to know better. Idaho news writers and commentators—and especially their readers—would do well to understand: The Idaho Education Association is a special interest group whose mission is all about money and power.
By Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.