OEA throws a tantrum

If you still wonder why Americans so love their teachers but are growing cool toward teacher unions, take a look at the tantrum that is the Oregon Education Association's legislative report card.

You can read it all there — the OEA's undisguised political intimidation, its over-the-top opposition to even the smallest school reforms, and especially its spiteful attacks on lawmakers who have spent decades fighting the good fight for schools.

There's an "F" in the report card for Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House co-speaker Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay, a former schoolteacher and principal himself. An "F" for Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who has battled for extended kindergarten and more support for schools all of his political career. And an "F" for Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, a former labor union leader and one of the strongest school supporters in Salem.

These lousy grades say more about the OEA than the legislators on the receiving end of them. If you didn't know any better, you'd think Democrats such as Courtney and Roblan had enlisted Republicans in a Wisconsin-style attack on the rights of schoolteachers to organize and bargain collectively.

In fact, all Courtney and Roblan did was join Gov. John Kitzhaber, lawmakers of both parties, pro-schools groups such as Stand For Children, the Chalkboard Project and many, many others in supporting a broad package of education reform bills that virtually everyone — except the OEA — believes will strengthen Oregon schools.

The OEA hated three bills in the education package, including legislation to expand access to privately run "virtual schools," allow universities and community colleges to sponsor charter schools, and enable families to send their kids to any public school district in the state, provided the receiving district has space. These small-bore "choice" bills were so anathema to the OEA that the union was willing to sacrifice every other education reform, including a broad reorganization of school oversight, just to kill them.

The OEA flexed its muscles, and for once, lawmakers refused to bow down. And for that, the OEA has responded with a legislative report card that is a howl of frustration. Of course, Democrats, who rely on public unions for critical campaign financing and volunteer support, will read something else into the scorecard — a clear demand that they toe the OEA line.

But as the kids say, it's just a grade. And lawmakers have to consider the source — a teachers union that has moved ever-further from the priorities of parents, children, a Democratic governor and legislators of both parties.

Surely we don't need to remind lawmakers that Oregonians across the state are delivering their own assessments of this Legislature. While the OEA isn't happy, lawmakers have found that their constituents are clearly pleased with the show of compromise and bipartisan leadership that led to the education reforms in Salem.

Oregon teachers ought to be embarrassed by the legislative report card and its cheap shots at legislators who have spent their political careers trying to help schools, teachers, students and their parents. And they ought to be alarmed that their union leaders seem bent on forcing lawmakers to choose between satisfying the OEA, or the vast majority of Oregonians.

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