Colorado and Michigan Taxpayers Both Still Underwriting Teachers Union Release Time

A year ago this time Colorado teachers unions were taking numerous taxpayer-funded leave days to lobby against Senate Bill 191 at the State Capitol. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow has written about the topic many times — first with a 2004 issue paper that found nearly $800,000 in taxpayer subsidies underwriting the practice.

The privilege remains embedded in many collective bargaining agreements. The Jefferson County Education Association, for example, gets 275 days each year releasing teachers from the classroom to do union business with the district responsible for paying the substitute costs. Evidence showed an earlier president of the Poudre Education Association engaged in political activities while most of her salary was paid from public funds. The same arrangement remains in place.

But of course it’s not a problem isolated to Colorado. A couple weeks ago Michigan Capitol Confidential posted a story on its public information requests concerning teachers union leave subsidies, and the results from the Great Lakes State are interesting:

Statewide, there are 39 school districts that paid teachers to work at least half their time on union activities, with 25 of those districts paying for full release time. These 39 districts combined to pay at least $2.7 million to cover the costs of teachers who work on union business.

Sounds familiar, but on a larger scale, huh? The article contains this insightful comment:

Michael Van Beek, director of the education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the cost is two-fold for districts.

“Taxpayers pay twice when districts grant unions these privileges,” Van Beek wrote in an e-mail. “They’ve got to foot the bill for the union boss’ pay and for the pay of somebody else to actually teach while the union boss enjoys release time. It’s an arrangement that has no positive impact for students, parents or taxpayers.”

First, let me make it easy by saying, Ditto. Next, will Colorado lawmakers even take a look at abolishing taxpayer-funded union release time? Or at the least, as DeGrow highlighted in a 2010 issue paper, couldn’t legislators and school boards institute policies that make the privilege more accountable to citizens? In the big picture of education budgets it’s a small amount of money, but until public officials take care of this conflicted spending luxury it’s hard to take their concerns quite so seriously.

Since I likely would never have found the Michigan article without them, here goes another thanks to Education Action Group for spreading the word on union release time.