If Teachers Unions Can't Convince Rahm Emanuel ...
Around the State
Make a habit of feeding alligators and you'd better never stop. If you do, they're going to get a little angry and try to eat you.
That's the predicament the Democrats find themselves in today. For years they've fed the alligators -- the folks you know as the powerful American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association. Time after time they've given these unions the red meat they want -- money, perquisites, contract terms, love, you name it -- all in exchange for strong support at the polls.
Now all of a sudden, here comes Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel via President Barack Obama. Emanuel wants to withhold the unions' treats. He wants to hold Chicago public schools accountable -- and for that, the big green snappers have him surrounded.
Emanuel, former White House chief of staff under Obama, is a devotee of the president's education reform initiatives. Like inner cities across the country dominated by teachers unions, Chicago -- the country's third largest school district -- is pocked with mediocre- and downright poor-performing schools, yet a crushing bill for education.
The cause of Chicago's now-week-old teachers' strike is Emanuel's follow-the-leader initiatives -- extend the system's notoriously short school day by 90 minutes, pay the city's 26,000 teachers, who already average $72,200 annually after 13 years experience, about 16 percent more over four years. They get the increase, he says, because their hours would be increased. Sound fair to you?
The unions hate it. Mainly, they hate it because of another little proviso that will sound familiar to Floridians: Teachers would have their success evaluated on how well their students perform on government-required exams -- like the FCAT in the Sunshine State. They hate it because, with rumored school closings, they know the worst performing teachers would be the first to go.
Why school reform is on the radar of Obama and Emanuel -- two labor-stroking liberals -- is because of the model of Michelle Rhee, chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools from 2007 to 2010. To improve the abysmal system there, Rhee worked aggressively to weed out ineffective and unqualified teachers -- controversial efforts that teachers unions fought at every turn.
Like-minded Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Rhee to his transition team in 2011 and for several months she remained his education adviser.
Rhee had no time for union whining. When asked last year during a Tallahassee press conference whether Florida teachers unions would have a place in any reform conversations, she replied, "The unions and their policies aren't really of much concern because we're going to be focused on the kids."
The unions fought her measures in the Sunshine State, too, particularly in an effort to keep teacher tenure and avoid teacher accountability through student testing. Florida Democrats weren't so inclined to side with Obama's Rhee-style initiatives back then.
Teachers unions are fighting Emanuel tooth and nail, but they aren't convincing him to invite them back to the feeding trough. Obama, however, is another matter. He's looking at a close election, he needs the muscular volunteer corps he gets from the ranks of teachers, and he's chosen to distance himself from the Chicago teachers strike.
But this is an election year. Unions may win every fight in every Northern city in 2012 because of it. But watch out in 2013 and beyond. Emanuel's line in the sand -- even with Obama playing duck and cover -- is a slap in the unions' face. It could spell the beginning of a revolution that puts the obligations of students and community ahead of the whims of teachers unions.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.