Wending its way through the Idaho Legislature is House Concurrent Resolution 48 regarding the Idaho Education Association (IEA), a teachers’ union. A concurrent resolution is a way the Legislature can show appreciation; after a series of “Whereas”-es it will read, “Now, be it resolved” a certain geographical feature is especially beautiful, or a particular person has accomplished something noteworthy, or in this case “that members of the Idaho Education Association be congratulated on their organization’s 120th anniversary and their service to the teaching profession and to the children of Idaho.”
According to the concurrent resolution, one of the myriad ways the IEA has served the children of Idaho during its 120-year history is by its members having “given nearly a million dollars in assistance to their neediest students through their donations to the IEA Children’s Fund.”
Another way IEA has spent a million dollars is via its political arm, the Political Action Committee for Education (PACE). It didn’t take IEA-PACE 120 years to do it, either. Since 2002, IEA-PACE has contributed $1,044,608 to Idaho politicians and other political action committees. In a 12th of the time it takes to give “nearly a million dollars” to needy children, the same organization has given away even more to influence elections and public policy.
What kind of public policy does the IEA think is worth a million dollars? Since the IEA is a union, and unions are membership organizations, the IEA wants public policies encouraging membership growth and will fight policies that might shrink its membership. Therefore, the IEA will always stand in the way of digital learning and school choice. The digital revolution has exponentially increased individual productivity, and digital learning could enable an individual teacher to reach many more students at once. If teachers were more productive, society might need fewer teachers, and that would mean fewer union members. Similarly, public charter school teachers and private school teachers are less likely to be unionized, so the IEA discourages the growth of those schools and students from attending them.
It is arguable that the IEA has served many teachers in Idaho. In addition to fighting to preserve itself, the IEA has fought for increased wages and benefits for its members at every turn. This should come as no surprise because it’s what unions are supposed to do. To conflate what best serves the IEA with what best serves students, however, is a mistake. Especially in Idaho, with students living in extremely remote areas who could be served by digital learning as they never have been been served before, the interests of the teachers’ union and the interests of children are not the same interests.