First Annual Teacher Freedom Summit Enables Educators to Fight Back Against Teachers’ Unions

America’s public school system is in decline. According to the most recent National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), reading and math scores for public school students have dropped to their lowest level in decades. Eighth-grade history scores are the lowest on record since the NAEP began in 1944.

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To make matters worse, all 50 states experienced teacher shortages in at least one subject last year.

Of the public school teachers that remain, 63 percent are considering leaving their profession.

Instead of providing teachers with encouragement and the resources they need to turn public education in the right direction, teachers’ unions like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have shown time and again their true priority is advancing a radical political agenda rather than the wellbeing of teachers and students.

In 2021, the NEA spent nearly $200 million dollars of membership dues on political activities and donations – 50 percent of the union’s $374 million budget.

Just nine percent was spent on direct assistance to its members.

In recent years, both the NEA and AFT have doubled down on pushing a left-wing political agenda into the classroom, including a guide instructing teachers to push transgenderism in the classroom, pronoun guides, and “white supremacy culture resources.”

Fully 81 percent of teachers believe the politicization of education is a significant problem. Despite this, teachers’ unions, which claim to represent the interests of educators, continue to push forward with their radical political agenda.

Due to the tremendous financial and representational power of the national teachers’ unions, many educators are afraid to take action.

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To provide public school teachers across the country with the resources and support to combat the overreaching influence of the NEA and AFT, the Freedom Foundation hosted its first annual Teacher Freedom Summit this month in Denver, Colorado. The conference provided an all-expenses paid, three-day training for public school teachers from 26 states, Canada and Australia.

On July 12, 191 teachers arrived at the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center for a welcome reception and dinner featuring a virtual appearance from former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who gave teachers a word of encouragement despite the state of public education. The event’s keynote speaker, Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters, followed, emphasizing the importance of public education reform and encouraging teachers to replicate strategies from the Oklahoma Department of Education in their own states.

Freedom Foundation Teacher Freedom Summit Ryan Walters, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction – July 10, 2023, Denver, Colo (Credit: Ashley Varner/Freedom Foundation)

As one teacher expressed it, “He got everyone fired up that there are good states with good policies.”

On Tuesday, teachers attended a full day of sessions. Mark Janus discussed his landmark 2018 U.S. Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which banned mandatory union membership and dues for government employees.

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Later, Hoover Institute Fellow Michael Hartney provided teachers with a historic and modern analysis of how teachers’ unions spend membership dues. Corey DeAngelis, executive director at Educational Freedom Institute, spoke about school choice victories across the country and how, contrary to liberal talking points, voucher systems are beneficial to teachers and students alike.

Several Freedom Foundation staff members provided insight into the predatory methods of teachers’ unions, as well as legal services provided pro bono by the organization. The day concluded with a dinner featuring Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr.

Each session was followed by a question-and-answer discussion, allowing teachers to engage directly with education experts.

On the final day of the Summit, teachers heard from a panel of speakers discussing the dangers of extreme left-wing curriculum in the classroom, including practical ways to speak up against inappropriate material being pushed by teachers’ unions and administrators alike.

After group discussions, teachers were free to network and discuss the state of public education with peers teaching similar age groups.

Educators left the Teacher Freedom Summit feeling inspired and energized by the support of their fellow attendees. In reflection, one teacher wrote, “Before this conference, I felt isolated and intimidated. Thanks to (the) Freedom Foundation, I feel connected, informed, and ready to stand up for truth in my school.”

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Equipped with new knowledge, a new network of peers, and the support of the Freedom Foundation, many attendees were eager to return to their classrooms to recruit other teachers in the fight against the NEA and AFT.

As one teacher put it, “The courage to act is necessary. We will be facing challenges. It is normal to feel scared, even intimidated. But what’s more important is standing up for children and their families.”

Through conferences, legal services, and outreach, the Freedom Foundation will continue to fight alongside teachers in the ongoing battle for the future of public education.

 

Maddie Dermon is a policy and research analyst at the Freedom Foundation. www.OptOutToday.com.

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