The 74 has a breakdown of proposed K-12 spending in the Biden relief bill.
Lots of chatter about today’s Dana Goldstein Times profile of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and her efforts on school reopening. It’s being viewed as a source greaser or evidence that media won’t hold its friends accountable (along with some less SFW descriptors).
I think that’s a mistake. A few things about it seem significant.
First, Weingarten is a keen reader of the political tea leaves and a very good tactician. Remember, as the Obama Administration was ascendant no one was as vocal about the need for unions to reform and lead as she was. She even said sometimes tenure was a job for life and other heresies. When the politics changed, she changed. In this case she is reading that the Biden Administration while obviously pro-labor and willing to throw a lot of money at the problem still has its limits in terms of its avowed goal for school reopening. And governors are moving that way. Even Virginia’s Ralph Northam, who Virginia’s teacher association has a mechanic’s lien on, is now calling for a March opening timeline. Progressive cities are trying to lower the temperature.
She’s also reading the growing exasperation with the unions and reopening – especially among the governing and influencer class. There is a half life on the just say no strategy and with Trump gone the politics have changed. Weingarten’s power in labor is fundamentally national and this is a national play. She can’t get too far out in front of her members but she can straddle like this and has to in order to be effective. That play is evident in the Goldstein article and an important signal. This is about Weingarten and the Biden Administration and that relationship, the future, and her national profile. There’s risk, sure, but a consistent bet for her has been that people are opportunistic, temporal, and have short memories and that’s a bet that usually pays off.
There is substance, too. As the article indicates Weingarten appreciates that the finances of public education are more fragile than people think and even a modest change in parent behavior as a result of the pandemic experience would create problems that would impact labor.
Weingarten is also not wrong on the trust issues. You don’t have to be a fan of the teachers’ unions response during Covid overall to acknowledge they have some important points that should be heeded. And, you have to be close to schools to appreciate how little trust often exists among teachers. And if you’re in a school where there are frequent shortages on things like soap or toilet paper and just general low-grade chaos then would you really trust that something like PPE would be done effectively? Especially against the backdrop of the larger Covid experience in a lot of communities? Unions like to say that management gets the union it deserves and there is some truth to that.
That’s not a comment on whether or not schools should be open or that whole debate, it’s just a fact of life given the dysfunction we allow to persist in a lot of places. Dysfunction it should be noted that can be laid at the feet of labor, but also management and our political class.
So this is a long way of saying, if you’re just dismissing the Goldstein article as a puff piece you may be missing an important signal about the politics the next few years. One of my favorite quotes is Gertrude Stein commenting that wars settle things that were already evident politically. Seems that’s what’s going on here.