Commentary Magazine


The Growing Scandal of Public School Politicking

The battles between teachers unions and Republican governors have had several consistent elements, one of which is the open and inappropriate anti-reform politicking at public schools. Last year, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed cutting state aid to school districts and asked teachers to make minor contributions to their health benefits, he encouraged voters to reject their school budgets (which are subject to public referendum) if their local teachers refused to make the contributions and accept a one-year pay freeze. The Monroe Township School District responded by saddling students with a mandatory homework assignment: They were instructed to interview their parents as to why they were voting against their education. Christie responded with one of the most famous quotes of his tenure, accusing the schools of “using the students like drug mules to carry information back to the classroom.”

Earlier this year, during the fight over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s proposals to limit union organizing and bargaining power, it came to light that University of Wisconsin professor William J. Cronon may have used his university email account to organize opposition to Walker.

But the most egregious violation of professional ethics–and quite possibly state election laws—was revealed yesterday.

The Lawrence Public School District in Michigan used its robocall alert system to tell students and parents about the effort to recall Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who has joined nationwide efforts to reform public unions. Schools Superintendent John Overley admitted it was a “big mistake” and said “It will never happen again.” More than a mistake, however, the stunt seems to have run afoul of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act.

Snyder’s reforms bear scant resemblance to those of either Christie or Walker, but they do give the state the power to intervene when districts fall into financial crisis. His reforms deserve far more attention than they are getting—a sentiment that has been expressed by both proud conservatives and hapless Michigan Democrats.