In a post on Tuesday, I quarreled with Kevin Carey's argument, in The New Republic, that Republican lawmakers are wrong to embrace federalism when it comes to education--and that this marks a "radical" shift that's driven by fear of the Tea Party. Left unmentioned was his bizarre description of state GOP leaders' "war on teachers":

For years, teachers' unions have claimed that education reformers are mounting a ?war on teachers.? Now, in the Midwest and Republican-dominated states across the country, we are witnessing what a war on teachers really looks like. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's nuclear assault on public employees' collective bargaining and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's overheated claims that teacher pensions are bankrupting the state reveal a Republican Party bent on using its current electoral advantage to permanently cripple unions nationwide.

Maybe it's unfair to pick on Kevin; progressive reformers of all stripes have been saying similar things (especially about Wisconsin) ever since Governor Walker's collective bargaining bill gained national attention. But consider this: about half the states don't require that districts bargain collectively with their teachers, and five ban the practice outright (Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas). Wisconsin's (and Ohio's) laws don't go that far--yet I don't recall progressives calling North Carolina's Jim Hunt, or Virginia's Tim Kaine or Mark Warner teacher-bashers because they didn't fight to allow collective bargaining in their states when they served as governor.

And is anyone who raises questions about the sustainability of teacher pensions going to be accused of trying to "permanently cripple unions"? If so, Carey's Education Sector might be part of Team Christie because it published a very good paper doing just that.

Look, I can understand why liberals would view Republican efforts to limit teacher unions' campaign contributions (through "paycheck protection" and the like) as an attempt to cripple them politically--and the progressive causes they support. But why all the fuss about collective bargaining? Is making Wisconsin's or Ohio's education systems more like Virginia's or North Carolina's really "going nuclear"? Are the teachers of Fairfax County, VA or Wake County, NC suffering from oppression because they lack the "rights" that Governor Walker recently took away? And if so, why haven't they been marching in the streets all these years?

Just something to consider the next time a left-of-center friend tries to distinguish himself from those meanie Republican reformers who enjoy eating teachers for breakfast.

-Mike Petrilli

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