News from the trenches: Maine

One of the most interesting things about writing a book is hearing first hand accounts from people who have direct experience with what you are writing about.  During our research, we spoke to many teachers, union and non-unions, from across the United States.  But this week, I heard from a teacher in Maine, a state that we gave a grade F to in Shadowbosses because state law there does not protect teachers from being forced to pay union dues to get or keep their jobs.

But as this careful reader pointed out, this does not mean that teachers are required to pay dues or fees to a union in every school district in the state. “Daniel from Maine” writes:

While Maine may not be a “right to work state” and does have the capability of forcing non-union members to pay agency fees, you fail to clarify this point and note that many local chapters of the NEA, in concert with their local school boards, do NOT choose to exercise this option.  As I noted, I have been a public school teacher since 1992 and have taught in two of Maine’s largest school districts.  When I was first applying for a teaching position I joined the NEA.  I soon found that the NEA was spending most of my dues to support political candidates for whom I would never vote for in an election and after about two years I stopped being a member of the teachers union.  Since then, I have not been a member, have not had “agency fees” deducted from my compensation, have not been bullied or intimidated by union members and have neither lost jobs nor been refused hire because I am not a union member.

There is little good that I personally have to say about the NEA.  I have found other liability insurance coverage for teachers which I believe is much better than the NEA.  The NEA has refused to represent on at least one incident involving a colleague, a card carrying union member when it should have stepped up and represented that person.  I do feel, however, that since you, in my opinion, did not fully research the local Maine opt out of agency fee collecting, that it tends to raise questions about the rest of your research and the conclusions that you draw.

My response was:

I am very pleased to hear that as a teacher in Maine, you have always worked in a school district that has refused to include a service fee requirement in the bargaining agreement.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that state law permits compulsory unionism, and that your situation could change at any time if the union negotiated for a contract provision forcing all teachers to pay dues.  The state of law doesn’t protect you adequately against this.  That was my point in categorizing Maine as a forced dues state.

Wouldn’t it be better if all teachers in Maine (and the United States) had the right to decide whether or not to support a union financially—as you do—and this protection were in state law?

Daniel from Maine agreed and added:

 When I dropped out of the union, I found that the Association of American Educators ( provides a much better alternative to the NEA teachers’ liability coverage without the political dues collection.  You might check them out.  They collect for the insurance and office overhead.

You may certainly use my comments.  Anything that I can offer that is useful to turning around the overpresence of the all too political NEA in the sphere of public education is there for you to productively use.

Those of you with specific information about the union conditions in particular states and occupations are certainly welcome to contact me here with your insights.  I will publish the most interesting comments (with a pen name for you).  Please note that my correspondence with Daniel from Maine was edited for brevity.

Teachers Unions Not Happy with Romney’s VP Pick

The nation’s largest union, the rich and powerful National Education Association, has indicated its disapproval with Romney’s VP pick, Paul Ryan.

Dennis Van Roekel, NEA’s President, stated:

“Ryan’s position on fundamental education issues like funding for early childhood education and efforts to keep class sizes small doesn’t speak to ensuring that every child in this country gets a quality education, it continues Romney’s misguided and out of touch mentality that class size doesn’t matter and children should get as much education as they can ‘afford’.

But actually class size is one of those issues that the teachers unions cleverly manipulate for their own benefit.  Staff-to-pupil ratios have dropped from 18-to-1 in 1960 to 8-to-1 currently.  While many parents may support smaller classes for their children, the research shows that smaller class sizes don’t make much difference on educational achievement.  In fact a McKinsey consulting firm study shows that of the 112 studies completed on the benefits of smaller class sizes on education, 103 showed that smaller class size did not improve student performance at all.   Our nation should probably be having at least a discussion on whether the education dollars spent on class size reduction might be better used on other educational improvements, but the teachers unions won’t permit this discussion–because smaller classes mean more educators–and more teachers union dues.   And anyone who doesn’t hold this view will be labeled “anti-school children” by the teachers union, which is exactly what the NEA is trying to do to Ryan.

Not everyone needs to go to College

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) tells us that there are many ways for people to find jobs, and they don’t have to go go through college.

There’s That Amendment Thing, Right? Bill of Somethingorother?

See, now this is why we should have a strong requirement for civics and American Government in public schools.

Annoyed by criticism from a local political group, the Gould, Arkansas, city council decided to wish it away. Last month it passed an ordinance abolishing the Gould Citizens Advisory Council, which it accused of “causing confusion and discourse among the citizens.” It also forbade Mayor Earnest Nash Jr., a member of the irksome group, to meet “any organization in any location,” whether “inside or outside Gould city limits,” without the city council’s permission. For good measure, Gould’s legislators declared that “no new organizations shall be allowed to exist in the City of Gould without approval from a majority of the City Council.”

It’s kind of funny.  But then it really isn’t.  It’s actually scary, not that some idiotic city council would try to outlaw dissent, but rather that they’d think it was somehow constitutional.

Can Students Get Through College Without Taking Loans?

Congresswoman Virginia Foxx tells that students can get through college without taking loans and that the U.S. needs more students learning technical skills.

They Believe They Can Spend Your Charitable Money Better Than You, Too.

Built into the Obama Administration’s call to reduce the charitable deduction for higher earners is this:

Much more worrisome are the assumptions of the latest tax proposal and a White House initiative called the Social Innovation Fund. While the former assumes that the money diverted from charity can be put to better use by government, the latter adds the notion that government funds should themselves be directed to nonprofits, some previously independent of government. The other assumption is that private philanthropy should follow along, matching government dollars.

In combination, this amounts to what can be called the Solyndra-ization of philanthropy, in which the government would brand select social-service organizations with the Washington seal of approval, and thus signal that private charitable capital should be directed to the same organizations.

The mind boggles.  Not only are they taking money out of the private sector capital markets to play their own venture capital games (see: Solyndra); but they’re also planning to do the same with non-profits.  Their proposal will drain funds from non-profits of your choosing and funnel money to non-profits of their choosing.


The One Decent Point Being Made by OWS

When they were 18 years old, they were told: “Go get a four-year degree.  It doesn’t matter your major.  You’ll get a job when you graduate.”

They were told: “Liberal arts degrees are coveted by employers – it means you know how to think critically.”

They were never exposed to shop classes. They were taught to look down their noses at the trades.  They were told to avoid “selling out” to earn a living.  They were told that working for a nonprofit was somehow more noble than working in the job-creating private sector.

And they were told – and encouraged – to go $100,000 in debt to earn that degree.

Do you blame the 18-year old who’s now in his mid-twenties, buried under a mountain of debt and unable to find a job?

Or do you blame the parents, educators and college counselors?  Do you blame a higher education system that has no downward pressure on costs?

Glenn Reynolds:

It’s officially a crisis. Student loan debt has hit the $1 trillion mark, exceeding Americans’ total credit card indebtedness. Unemployed graduates with huge loan balances are camping out in “Occupy” camps — the Hoovervilles of our age — around the nation. And President Obama, perhaps afraid those camps will be dubbed “Obamavilles,” as indeed they have already been by some, has unveiled a new proposal that promises to help graduates who are drowning in debt.


The real problem is that we’ve been running a higher education bubble, one that — like the real-estate bubble — has been pumped up by cheap government money. Since 1999, student loan debt has increased by 511%, while disposable income has increased by only 73%.

That’s because when the government subsidizes something, producers respond by raising prices to soak up as much of the subsidy as they can. College is no exception. Tuition has been increasing much faster than disposable income, and families — believing that a college education is a can’t-lose investment, much as they used to think houses were — have been making up the difference with debt. After all, we’re told, student loan debt is “good debt,” because a college degree guarantees more earnings.

Tell it to the Occupy Wall Street protesters, many of whom note that they’re deep in debt for fancy degrees that didn’t get them jobs.

Taxpayers Bailing Out Taxpayer-Financed Loans to Non-Taxpayers = “Stimulus”

Good Lord:

But Obama is now seeking to use that new power to obtain a taxpayer-financed stimulus that Congress won’t approve. The idea is to cap student loan repayment rates at 10 percent of a debtor’s income that goes above the poverty line, and then limiting the life of a loan to 20 years.

Take this example: If Suzy Creamcheese gets into George Washington University and borrows from the government the requisite $212,000 to obtain an undergraduate degree, her repayment schedule will be based on what she earns. If Suzy opts to heed the president’s call for public service, and takes a job as a city social worker earning $25,000, her payments would be limited to $1,411 a year after the $10,890 of poverty-level income is subtracted from her total exposure.

Twenty years at that rate would have taxpayers recoup only $28,220 of their $212,000 loan to Suzy.

Mallory Factor A Judge in Corporate Spelling Bee to Benefit Reading

October 11, 2011

How do you spell “fundraiser”? If you are local educational nonprofit LifeManagement Center, it’s B-E-E.

LifeManagement, which helps adults and children overcome learning challenges, is holding a Corporate Spelling Bee on Oct. 18 to help fund its Reading Rewards program.

The event will include 11 teams representing schools, colleges, dentists, pediatricians and even a book club. Some groups were sponsored by other organizations for the $1,000 entry fee.

What: LifeManagement Center Corporate Spelling Bee
When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18
Where: Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts, College of Charleston
Details: Judge Alex Sanders is the emcee and Elsa McDowell of The Post and Courier is the word reader. Judges are businessman Mallory Factor, consultant Doug Gepford and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. Teams are sponsored by The Citadel, College of Charleston, Nelson Mullins, Maybank Properties, Between the Lines book club and more.

Cost: Admission is free for spectators, but seating is limited. For tickets, call LifeManagement at 852-5705.

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Disney Paid Dividends

Like many families, we take our children’s education seriously. So when we were planning a trip to New York for our middle child, Creagh, we scheduled visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History and Chinatown. Then, the subject of Disney musicals came up. “Take Creagh to a show!” the grandparents suggested. “You mean like the Picasso show at MOMA?” we responded. “No, a Disney musical—like Mary Poppins. She’ll love it,” they urged.

“Hmmm,” we replied.   Our trips to New York with the kids always focused on the cultural and educational highlights of the city.  These were all the things our kids missed out on by being transplanted from Manhattan to a much smaller city when they were very little.

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