Ten Thousand Democracies: Politics and Public Opinion in America's School Districts

By Michael B. Berkman; Eric Plutzer | Go to book overview

chapter six
Teachers' Unions in
State and Local Politics

Throughout this book, we have treated public schools as political rather than market institutions. Our emphasis on responsiveness stems from a belief that school boards must be accountable and responsive to their citizens, and—unlike private schools—not focused narrowly on their consumers (Chubb and Moe 1990). But public officials are exposed to forces other than citizens' public opinion—whether this opinion is voiced through referenda or the next school board election—and in this and the following chapter we direct attention to two interests particularly critical to education politics: teachers' unions and senior citizens. Chapter 7 looks in detail at the political impact of older Americans who, we saw in chapter 3, have distinct and persistent resistance to educational spending and property taxation. Although not a formal interest group and more diverse than often recognized, the elderly do indeed act collectively in their interest.

Before we turn to the issue of what is often referred to as the “Gray Peril,” we look in this chapter at the political impact of teachers' unions. Moe contends that teachers' unions “have more influence on the public schools than any other group in American society” and that unions' objectives “are often incompatible with what is best for children, schools, and society” (2001b). There are many things that teachers seek, but foremost among them are a higher salary and better benefits. In pursuing their goals, unions can have an impact on local spending levels and budgets (Hoxby 1996; Rose and Sonstelie 2004; Baugh and Stone 1982).

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