Policy Solutions for the Adults in the Classroom
To meaningfully improve the education system, adult-focused reforms are needed.
American children’s test scores continue to plunge. For years, America has lagged behind the developed world, and COVID shutdowns expedited this decline to current levels. Some states have taken this news seriously and passed important new programs similar to ALEC’s Hope Scholarship Act to empower students and parents to pursue the educational options that best fit each their unique needs. More importantly, states like West Virginia, Iowa, Arkansas, Utah, Florida, and North Carolina are not just passing these programs but are making them available to every family regardless of income, geography, or any other factor.
These policies shift our focus in education from systems to students. Today, American students can learn in a variety of different environments, including public schools, private schools, home schools, virtual schools, micro schools, charter schools, and more. While the public school might work best for one student, her classmate down the street might achieve more in a virtual school. Ensuring access to all of these options means ensuring success among all of our nation’s students. That’s why states like Florida, Arkansas, and Indiana, which offer all families access to a diverse array of educational options, earned the top 3 spots in ALEC’s Index of State Education Freedom.
But what about the adults? The education system ultimately relies on adults to operate. To meaningfully improve the system, adult-focused reforms are also needed. For example, ALEC’s Fundamental Parental Rights Statute affirms, “The liberty interest of a parent in the nurture, education, care, custody, and control of the parent’s child is a fundamental right recognized by the United States Constitution.” In addition to passing new programs that maximize education freedom, states are also passing language like this to reaffirm a parent’s essential, fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children.
Educators deserve good reforms too. They deserve to have their voices and priorities accurately represented and championed. In some states, many public employees are deprived of a voice or vote in determining who negotiates with the state on their behalf. In fact, the Mackinac Center notes that less than 7% of public “employees who voted for those [public] unions are still on the job. In Florida and Michigan, for example, just 1% of teachers in the 10 largest school districts were employed when their union was organized.”
ALEC’s Union Recertification Act addresses this issue. It “ensures that no collective bargaining representative or exclusive representative shall represent public employees in a unit without the concurrence of a majority of all the public employees in the unit.” A vote to reapprove the union representation must occur every two years, and to ensure workers’ voices are protected, the vote must be conducted via secret ballot.
As described in a previous ALEC blog, Florida passed legislation that not only includes a similar recertification reform but additional reforms that prioritize public employees’ rights. Section 3 of SB 256 protects teachers’ and other public sector employees’ paychecks. It prevents government resources—including employee time—from being used to collect payments and fees on behalf of third-party organizations. Not only does this protect taxpayer dollars from being used for nongovernmental purposes, but it also protects public sector workers from having to do work for an organization they might not support and that they did not agree to work for.
The Florida law also creates a requirement that all public employees sign a specific “membership authorization form” to join a union. The form clearly informs workers of their rights, including their right to join or not join a union without the decision affecting their job. Some public workers might be unaware of their rights, and this law is intended to help workers—like public school teachers—make informed decisions.
Two of ALEC’s model policies accomplish similar reforms. The Public Employee Rights and Authorization Act requires that all public sector workers be informed of their rights to support or not support a union before making a membership decision and that union membership must be reauthorized annually. The Political Funding Reform Act forbids any government resources from being used “to collect or assist in the collection of political funds… on behalf of any private individual or organization.” Workers are free to support organizations of their choice, however taxpayer dollars should be used strictly for public sector responsibilities.
Iowa has passed legislation similar to the Political Funding Reform Act, and Wisconsin already requires “many public sector employees… to vote for their union representation every year.” Some states, like South Carolina, have even gone a step further and banned all public sector collective bargaining. It is important to note that the ban does not prevent public workers from joining and participating in a union. Instead, as ALEC’s Fair and Accountable Public Sector Authority Act states, the policy ensures, “third party employee associations do not have preferential powers beyond what other individuals and groups in the state have.”
Education freedom continues to be a priority across the states as parents and guardians seek more non-public educational options for their students. In addition to critical policies like the Hope Scholarship Program, states can consider more reforms, like those described above and those found in ALEC’s Essential Policy Solutions for 2024, that complement the effort and champion the rights and concerns of the adults most involved.