The comprehensive report offers a deep dive into the austerity agendas and disinvestment that sparked the wave of teacher walkouts around the country this spring.
Among the findings: Public education is underfunded in every single state in the United States.
When you control for inflation, there are 25 states that spent less on K-12 education in 2016 than they did prior to the recession. Schools in these states have been shortchanged by $19 billion.
Eighteen of the 25 states that provided less funding for K-12 education reduced their tax effort between 2008 and 2015.
In 35 states, between 2008 and 2016, the ratio of students to teachers grew.
In 38 states, the average teacher salary in 2018 is lower than it was in 2009.
Forty-one states have shortchanged higher education by a total of $15 billion.
The report reviews the research outlining how investments matter for education and points out that the harm caused by spending cuts affects students. It also examines the impact of privatization on public education.
The report finds evidence of austerity and disinvestment in every state. Even in states like New York, California and Minnesota, doing “better” doesn’t mean that funding is good enough.
Stamping out unions has long been the aim of many wealthy conservatives, because it’s easier for them to win elections, maintain economic dominance, and disempower workers when individuals can’t collectively improve their lives through the strength and solidarity of a union.
Janus’ supporters argued that the “fair share” fees nonmembers pay for union representation violate their First Amendment rights, even though workers have the right not to join a union or pay for any of the union’s political work. Justice Elena Kagan dismissed the majority’s opinion as “weaponizing the First Amendment,” noting that the same argument was raised — and unanimously rejected — 41 years ago in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, a precedent the Supreme Court has upheld six times. With this reversal, public employees who benefit from a collective bargaining agreement but choose not to join the union can opt to be “free riders” and not contribute anything for the benefits they receive, while the union must still represent them.
While right-wing groups are mobilizing and spending many millions of dollars to “defund and defang” unions by attempting to pick off our members, people are sticking with the union. The misleadingly named Freedom Foundation contacted the 34,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles, urging them to drop their memberships. Exactly one person did. Union leaders across the country have told me that they got calls after the Janus decision — not from people who wanted to drop, but from those who wanted to join or recommit.
Workers are sticking with their unions because unions are still the best vehicle working people have to make a difference in their lives and their workplaces. Unions negotiate everything from manageable class sizes to safety equipment for emergency personnel. Workers covered by a union contract earn 13.2 percent more on average than nonunion workers, and they are more likely to have health insurance, paid leave and retirement benefits. As the recent teacher walkouts showed, the states where union density is the lowest have sharply cut back spending and investment in public education. Teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public employees nationwide are signing recommitments to their unions, because they know that unions make possible what is impossible for individuals to accomplish on their own.
Linda Greenhouse, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, longtime Supreme Court observer, recently wrote that the court’s “attack on public employee unions has little to do with the Constitution and a whole lot to do with politics.” Indeed, the right wing of the Supreme Court is going well beyond its charge to interpret the Constitution. With the reliably conservative vote of the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court is transforming from an impartial protector of constitutional liberties and minority rights to an activist, partisan champion of the powerful and the political right — which is exactly how a web of right-wing, dark-money groups planned it.
Gorsuch ascended to the high court after Senate Republicans stonewalled President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, for 293 days, riding out the clock until Donald Trump took office. The conservative Judicial Crisis Network alone spent millions to pressure the Senate to oppose Garland’s confirmation and then to support Gorsuch. JCN’s primary funder is the Wellspring Committee, a right-wing group based in Virginia that also supported Illinois Policy Action, a conservative organization that represented the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME — in which Gorsuch just cast the decisive vote.
The court this term has ruled to allow states to purge eligible voters from their rolls, uphold Trump’s immigration ban and protect employers from class-action lawsuits by workers with grievances. Sounds more like a legislative agenda than a judicial docket of the highest court of the land. And that is why we’re already seeing a firestorm of protest in the wake of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s announced retirement.
Janus poses a challenge for public sector unions, one we have been preparing for. But it presents great opportunities as well, as unions have re-engaged with our members. The day of the Janus decision, AFT nurses in Ohio won a contract that created safe staffing levels, and 2,400 faculty in Oregon voted to join the AFT. Union members will continue to care, fight, show up and vote — to achieve together what individuals cannot do alone. Don’t count us out.
American Federation of Teachers president, committed to improving schools, hospitals and public institutions for children, families and communities.