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For MEA, education excellence takes a back seat to politics

Posted Jan. 23, 2012, at 3:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 23, 2012, at 4:52 p.m.

Not long ago the Maine Education Association — the teachers union — promoted educational excellence in public schools and worked for better pay and benefits for teachers. Certainly, that was the public image the MEA enjoyed.

But times have changed. Today, it has dropped any pretenses and has shown itself to be a well-financed, partisan lobbying group that advocates a progressive ideology.

The MEA’s recent newsletter includes a “scorecard” — “Where do your legislators stand?” — illustrating the group’s partisan political stance. It shows that it no longer takes positions on just education policy and teacher benefits; it has begun to advocate for the Democrats’ party-line positions on a variety of issues including election policy, private health insurance reform, minimum wage and child labor laws.

One bill on the scorecard, LD 1326, would allow school districts to self-insure or get competitive bids elsewhere. It is obvious why the teachers union would be opposed to LD 1326. School districts that took that route would no longer be buying health insurance through the MEA and that would mean the union would no longer get its lucrative fee for being the middleman.

LD 1326 did pass the legislature and was signed by the governor. The MEA is now suing the state — that’s you and me — to prevent schools from using this cost-savings tool.

Another bill is LD 1553, which created a charter school program for Maine. Charter schools have proven to be effective as an alternative learning choice for some students. Sadly, the teachers union does not want these schools educating Maine children, as that would mean fewer dues paid to the union.

But other bills on the scorecard have absolutely nothing to do with education policy, teachers or even organized labor. LD 1333 addressed health insurance reform in the private market. LD 447 was a bill to raise the minimum wage again. LD 1376 was the election procedures reform bill.

The MEA’s explanations for supporting or not supporting these noneducation bills were weak at best, claiming some to be “pro-worker” and others not.

The reality is that the teachers union has chosen to advocate for their political party’s position in these matters — and without polling members. It can then use this “scorecard” in political campaigns.

As one can see from the MEA.org website, almost all Republicans receive a score of 20 percent or below on these hand-picked Democratic issues (most get a score of 0 percent) while almost all Democrats get 80 percent or above, with most scoring a “perfect” 100 percent.

The Maine Education Association has long been a powerful force in Augusta. Its lobbyists are some of the most well-paid and influential in the capital. It has played a dominant role in not only directing the investment of education dollars but in determining Maine education policy. Now we see it has expanded its reach into all facets of state government policy.

As a past member of several different labor unions, I understand how collective bargaining can benefit some members. I have also watched as big labor became much more ideological over the years, with many workers no longer support this increasingly partisan ideology. The MEA is a good example of this overreaching.

It would be one thing if the money funneling into the MEA’s coffers were private dollars paid voluntarily by union members. But the teachers union dues that fund this left-wing advocacy organization come directly from you and me through property taxes and other state taxes.

This has got to change. Union dues should never be paid for with tax dollars — especially when the union uses those dollars for partisan political purposes. The MEA has to remember that it is a collective bargaining unit for public school teachers and should be promoting education excellence, not the Maine Democratic Party’s agenda.

Rep. Jonathan McKane, R-Newcastle, a fourth-term legislator, is an electrical contractor.

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