Dear Unions, Welcome to Our World!

Private schools are nothing, if not diverse.  Some are grounded in religious orientations, while others are secular.  Some are organized as nonprofit entities, while others are profit-seeking proprietorships or corporations.  Some follow distinctive educational philosophies (think Montessori, or Waldorf), while others subscribe to an eclectic set of principles and practices.  Some are large, others small.  Some place a premium on structure and routine, while others prefer flexibility and inventiveness.  Some accord considerable value to standardized achievement tests, while others give the nod to more “authentic” and holistic forms of assessment.  And on and on…

There is, however, one characteristic that all private schools share in common: the relationship between tuition-paying families and the schools in which they choose to enroll their children is always voluntary.  No parent is ever forced to sign a contract with a private school, and every parent that makes such a choice does so in reliance that the services offered will justify the personal expense obligated by the act of voluntary association.

Given the guarantee of a “free” alternative just “down the street” or “around the corner” in the form of a local public school, it is no overstatement to posit voluntarism as the defining characteristic of private, K-12 education.  To compete with “free” means that private schools must never take voluntary association for granted.

In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME, though public employee unions will retain the ability to offer exclusive representation on behalf of employees, an employee will no longer be obligated to pay for such representation.  As the Court’s opinion explains:

“…States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees. The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them. Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

Which is to say that from this point forward, the pecuniary relationship between a public employee and a public employee union is voluntary.  Welcome to our world!

There are, of course, considerable differences between labor unions and private schools.  But beginning today, unions will need to work harder to secure the voluntary remission of fees permitted by Janus.  Not only should this prove beneficial to union members, but the heightened form of accountability to which unions are now subject should induce improvement in responsiveness to members’ needs and quality of service, making the unions, themselves, better.  While the Janus ruling is clearly a challenge to the nation’s public employee labor unions, those worth paying will respond earnestly, positively, and creatively.


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