What rights should teachers have?

Here’s one that’s a bit hard for me to get my head around this morning:  The education writer for Presidential Candidate John Cox’s blog believes that the spouses and relatives of teachers should have limited opportunities to become involved in key decisions about schooling at the local level.

The comment was made by Lennie—who writes at Education Matters and discloses his connection to Cox in this edition of the Education Carnival—in an ongoing conversation that he and I are having about the role that teachers should play in the electoral process that began with this post about formative assessments.

In response to my question about the common conservative assumption that legislators who are responsive to teachers are automatically unresponsive to taxpayers, Lennie wrote:

In my opinion, the teachers advocate at the local school board level is the school administrator. There should not be a teacher on the school board since they can influence their own salaries. Spouses and relatives of teachers should not be allowed to vote or negotiate on any contracts as well. Again there is a huge conflict of interest.

At the State level, teachers can lobby just like the normal citizen. However, they should not be allowed to lobby on school time as happens regularly here in Illinois. They even carry students to the capitol to rally for them, all paid for by the taxpayer.

The unions are a different animal altogether. The teachers pay dues (taxpayer money) to the unions. The unions then represent the teachers with campaign donations and heavy lobbying. They are effectively using taxpayer money against the taxpayer. This puts the citizenry at a huge disadvantage in influence. Taxpayers give small donations while unions give large donations. The scales are not balanced.

Lennie’s argument that teacher donations to unions that lobby for specific plans of action essentially amounts to taxpayer dollars being used “against the taxpayer” is certainly interesting.  Would such concern spread to the members of other professions that accept public funding for their work—-police officers, firefighters, legislators, judges, public defenders, social workers, members of the military?

I’m also wondering when teacher salaries move from being “taxpayer money” to being personal income.  If the answer is never—which Lennie seems to suggest when arguing that dues paid to professional organizations is a form of taxpayer dollars being used against taxpayers—-then any donation a teacher made to an advocacy organization could be called into question:  tithes at church, gifts to the NRA, contributions to abortion rights groups, etc.

Could Lennie’s central point that teacher involvement in advocacy work clouds decisions related to teaching and learning be legitimate?  After all, we certainly are highly invested and active members of the voting population.

Or is it simply a real stretch for the lead education writer of a Presidential candidate to suggest that the spouses and relatives of teachers should have limited political opportunities in a republic such as ours?

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