Saturday, February 28, 2009

Yet another Example of Teachers Putting Their Interests ahead of the Students They Teach

The following piece appears at The Examiner.

Spelling and grammar errors as well as typos are left as an exercise for our readers.

Teachers unions say 'jump,' Congress says 'how high?'

By Timothy P. Carney
Examiner Columnist | 2/26/09 5:54 PM

Teachers unions, through their allies in the Democrat-controlled Congress, are on the verge of demolishing the chief threat to their monopoly—school vouchers for low-income families in the District of Columbia.

If they win in the end and kill this program, it will be another triumph for a near-monopoly that has lined the coffers of nearly every member of Congress and deployed an army of lobbyists throughout Washington.

When the House passed the $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill this week—funding the normal operations of government for the next seven months—it included a provision that effectively would end the D.C. school voucher program after next school year.

While there are legitimate doubts about the educational results of the D.C. voucher program, which provides $7,500 in federal taxpayer money to some low-income district parents to use on private or religious schools, the voucher program is in Congress’s crosshairs because of the lobbying efforts and campaign contributions of the teachers’ unions, which don’t want competition from private schools.

Public school teachers, for the most part, are not well paid. Theirs is a noble undertaking, and in places like D.C. they do dangerous and difficult work with inadequate support. But the image of the hard-working self-sacrificing teacher is not the proper symbol for the teachers unions in this country. They are more like huge corporations with high-powered lobbying arms and cozy connections with important politicians.

Beltway bandits, defense contractors, influential industries—most of them pale in their influence efforts compared to the teachers unions, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Take defense contractors. Lockheed Martin, the top recipient of military contracts most years, spent more on politics than any other defense firm in the 2008 elections. They still spent less than the American Federation of Teachers, which shelled out $2.8 million in the last cycle—with nearly every AFT dime going to Democrats.

The top two teachers unions—AFT and the National Education Association—spent more combined, $5.27 million, than the top two defense contractors.

The top five lobbying firms, combined, didn’t equal the AFT and the NEA in federal contributions in the 2008 cycle. Both of the teachers unions gave more than any oil company, and the NEA and AFT combined gave more than the top four oil companies combined.

These contributions give the unions clout, and federal lobbying records show they use this clout. Again, on closer inspection, the teachers unions look an awful lot like those corporate special interests Democrats supposedly oppose.

The NEA employs four different lobbying firms in Washington, in addition to their in-house lobbying arm, which includes at least six lobbyists. Over the past two years, the NEA spent $10.7 million on lobbying. Reviewing the filings of the NEA, the AFT, and their K Street hires reveals that lobbying to kill DC vouchers was a priority.

The AFT spent about $1.8 million on lobbying in the last two years. That includes at least $135,000 in 2008 to the Ickes and Enright Group, a small lobbying shop run by Harold Ickes and Janice Enright, two Billl and Hillary Clinton intimates.

Ickes was the deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House, and served as his special assistant. Enright is also a prolific fundraiser, having served as treasurer for the biggest 527s in the 2004 election and for HillPAC, the political action committee of Hillary Clinton, more recently.

Interestingly, all four quarterly reports filed in 2008 by Ickes and Enright show that, despite the six-figure retainer paid by the AFT, the firm conducted no lobbying activity on behalf of the teachers union.

In the last cycle, Enright contributed $34,450 to Democratic candidates and PACs while Ickes gave $39,150. So the AFT gives these two money for nothing, and these two line the pockets of Democratic candidates.

The AFT and the NEA, then, are wealthy special interest groups that, in an effort to secure more taxpayer money and preserve a near-monopoly, donate to nearly every Democratic congressman. They spend millions on lobbying and retain big-name lobbyists to push their cause. And their cause includes stripping out funding for vouchers.

Again, there are substantive arguments against D.C. school vouchers. But with this money trail, it appears that congressional Democrats’ push to kill vouchers is simply a case of the piper playing the tune that the AFT has called.

Examiner columnist Timothy P. Carney is author of “The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money.”

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