By Victor Skinner

CHICAGO – Illinois taxpayers are footing the bill for teachers to attend union conferences every year, and for the substitutes who cover in their absence.

Money on fireThe Chicago Daily Herald reports Illinois schools spent at least $200,626 for 276 public school employees from 57 school districts to attend the Illinois Education Association’s two day April conference. Substitutes covering for the absent employees – mostly classroom teachers – cost taxpayers an additional $41,752, although local unions supposedly reimburse schools for all but $13,799 of that expense, the news site reports.

Other Illinois school districts with teachers represented by the Illinois Federation of Teachers send employees to a similar conference in the fall.

“That’s been past practice,” District 21 Assistant Superintendent Patricia McAndrews-Smith told the Daily Herald. “It’s like anything else – it’s something we didn’t give attention to, so it’s something now that will come under review.”

Paid union release time is a common perk in teachers union contracts across the nation, and our research shows it likely costs taxpayers much more than they realize.

Some arrangements require local teachers unions to reimburse their local districts for the time teachers conduct union business, but many don’t. Many teachers union contracts require schools to release the union president from all teaching duties full-time, at full-pay, to conduct union business.

The obvious problem is school officials are spending public tax dollars to essentially indoctrinate teachers into the union’s more money, no reforms mindset. They argue the union conference should be held at a more convenient time, outside of the school year.

David From, Illinois state director for Americans for Prosperity, put the problem into perspective for the Daily Herald.

“I’d argue the union should cover all of the costs,” he said. “This is an example of taxpayer funds going to subsidize a private organization. The union is constantly trying to take more taxpayer money, and not always in the best interest of the children’s education.”

Union officials argue the conference somehow benefits taxpayers because teachers learn how to advocate for legislation to reduce class sizes, improve working conditions and increase education funding.

In other words, educators learn the union’s agenda for public education, then go home to try to convince students and taxpayers in their local communities to support it. There are even some school board members who are buying into the scheme.

“We work together and a few years ago this union took a full, hard salary freeze that saved the district about a million and a half dollars,” Phil Pritzker, a District 21 board member told the news site. “I can tell you from a philosophical point of view, based on our relationship with the union, I don’t know that it would be something that we would make a whole hullabaloo about.”

We believe Pritzker’s attitude is precisely the problem, and the main reason why taxpayers across the country are forced to subsidize their teachers union’s operations. Pritzker and other school leaders with his “don’t rock the boat” perspective need to understand public schools are supposed to serve students, not special interest labor unions.

If more taxpayers put pressure on their local school boards to end the unfair practice of subsidizing the union conference every year, officials would be forced to act, and students who usually watch movies or fill out worksheets with substitutes for two days each April might actually learn something instead.

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