In the State

Who Gets To Speak For Parents? Hint: It’s Not The Teachers Union

A few days ago I noticed a new pop-up ad that I hadn’t seen before. It read: “Don’t balance the budget on my back,” featuring a sad boy, bogged down by an enormous backpack. Here’s what the ad looked like:

Clicking on the link sent me to the Connecticut Education Association’s (CEA) web page. That’s where I noticed something peculiar.

Do you see it? 

The CEA, the state’s largest teachers union, says they speak for parents?

This would be an incredible claim even if the organization didn’t spend hundreds of thousands of dollar lobbying against choice or helping efforts to water down parent empowerment laws, but of course, the union has done all those things.

And, yet, they think it’s OK to say on their website that “parents” are outraged, with zero indication of who these mysterious outraged parents are. This isn’t the first time they’ve done this either. They repeatedly claim that they represent the interests of students and parents.

Another example of the CEA claiming to speak for parents

Remember CEA, while not the chief masterminds, were “dragged kicking and screaming” into a plot by AFT Connecticut to “defuse” the state’s parent trigger law back in 2010. The strategy to feign collaboration was revealed when a secret power point was uncovered by blogger RiShawn Biddle.

In case you’re interested more on AFT’s plotting can be found here:

In the power point, which was meant to train other AFT affiliates how to subdue calls for parent empowerment laws, they pat themselves on the back for successfully co-opting the bill.

CEA Is Responsible For Leaving Parents Out Of The Turnaround Process

Technically, the CEA were unwitting accomplices. AFT’s power point makes it clear they played them just as much as they played parents, but the CEA certainly still acted against the bill and more than that, after the legislation was passed they worked for years to undermine it.

I’ve written about this before. Back in 2012, when the state passed Governor Malloy’s sweeping education reform bill. AFT and CEA collectively spent $1.6 million on lobbying legislators. The result was heavy union concessions. Among those concessions, was a watered down school turnaround process that seceded power to teachers.

The 2012 law established the “Commissioners Network,” a program that was meant to provide the state’s lowest performing schools with additional money and support. The turnaround process was supposed to be inclusive, reflective of the goals of the state’s parent trigger law. However, the way the law was written allows the teachers union to appoint the most members on a school’s turnaround committee.

The whole point of the parent trigger law was to empower communities to lead school turnarounds, but since 2012, in practice, parents are largely disenfranchised from the process — for example, in Bridgeport in 2015, when Luis Munoz Marin School was chosen for the Commissioner’s Network, only one parent was appointed to the turnaround committee. This was by design.

That parent, Rosa Torres, felt her input was being disregarded. She had to fight tooth and nail to get her ideas heard, and even then much of what she hoped for was compromised.

So, Who Gets To Speak For Parents?

The answer to this question is simple.

Who gets to speak for parents? Parents do. That’s it. No other answer is acceptable.

This isn’t to say that parent organizations, for example, school PTAs or Parent Advisory Councils, don’t represent parents collectively, but even these organizations only represent their membership and not the will of all Connecticut parents as a whole.

In 2012, when the state’s education reform bill was being written, Attorney Thomas Mooney, the guy who literally “wrote the book” on state education law (It actually is required reading for CT law students studying Edu Law), warned legislators that teacher unions, not only don’t represent students, and parents by extension, but can’t:

By law, teachers unions must represent all teachers, including the ineffective or incompetent. Their professed willingness to weed out low performers directly contradicts their legal obligation to their members.

Mooney wasn’t bashing unions, only pointing out that legislators had to be cautious when CEA and AFT  claimed to advocate for reform because their very status as a trade union presents a conflict of interest.

I have no doubt there are “parents” outraged over the governor’s state budget proposal, but the CEA doesn’t get to make blanket statements as if they represent the interest of parents. They don’t. The CEA, and their buddies at AFT,  decidedly represent the interests of teachers, to suggest otherwise is downright dishonest.


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