We regularly hear about the strength of Connecticut’s two teachers’ unions – American Federation of Teachers-Connecticut (AFT) and the Connecticut Education Association – when it comes to both politics and policy in the Nutmeg State.
But we all know that reputation can often extend far beyond the reality. Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a new research report that takes a close look at the strength of teachers’ unions across the United States.
And what did Fordham find with regard to Connecticut? When it comes to the power of the AFT and CEA, Connecticut teachers’ unions were ranked in the second tier when it comes to strength, placing 17th in the nation. Fordham noted that “Connecticut boasts the highest teacher union membership in the nation. Its unions enjoy a broad scope of bargaining power and favorable state policy environment, and they have garnered a reputation among stakeholders as moderately influential.”
Our teachers unions scored best when it came to Resources and Membership, placing 9th in the nation. Almost all – 98.8 percent – of our pubic school teachers are unionized, and the unions get $516 per teacher from those unionized educators.
AFT and CEA also scored well when it comes to Scope of Bargaining, ranking 13th in the nation because Connecticut is one of 32 states that requires collective bargaining and is a state that allows unions to automatically collect fees from non-union teachers. Of the 21 items Fordham looked at as part of a bargained agreement, Connecticut teachers collectively bargain 20 (with only pension/retirement benefits completely excluded).
Connecticut also placed 13th for State Policies, with researchers noting how most of the Constitution State’s education policies align with traditional union positions – even after the passage of this year’s landmark education reform legislation.
Where do Connecticut’s teachers fall short, by comparison? AFT and CEA ranked 27th for Perceived Influence, with the unions scoring well for protecting education dollars and spending while noting that Connecticut’s teachers unions do not believe in the art of compromise when it comes to policy discussions.
But the lowest placement was for Involvement in Politics. Fordham scored Connecticut’s teachers’ unions 29th in the nation, based on their contributions to political campaigns. According to the numbers, Connecticut is only 35th in the nation when it comes to unions financially supporting candidates for state office, and 14th when it comes to financially supporting state political parties. What is missing from the calculation, though, it the impact of Connecticut’s public financing system and the significant dollars the AFT and CEA bring to campaigns through independent expenditures.
All told, Fordham paints an interesting picture of the power of Connecticut’s teachers unions and their impact on policy. When we see those states that rank ahead of Connecticut, we see that AFT and CEA enjoy a strong reputation without fully demonstrating the muscle to back it. Through a strong membership base and state law that fully embraces collective bargaining, the unions are able to enjoy a power that their involvement in politics or perceived influence warrant.
Regardless of the rankings, Connecticut’s teachers’ unions will continue to enjoy their reputation for being a major power in Connecticut politics. And it is a reputation well deserved. But if this year has taught us anything, it is that one voice alone should not and must not dominate the discussion on how to fix our schools.
Meaningful improvement requires the teachers unions working in partnership with parents, pastors, community leaders, and advocates. Anything short of that, and we are letting reputations and urban legends determine the fate of thousands and thousands of kids in need of help.