The Obama administration could not have set the stage for a better demonstration of the power and priorities of Wisconsin’s teachers unions.
With its Race to the Top competition, the federal government dangled the prospect of a share of $4.35 billion for those states ready to enact reforms, especially related to improving teacher and principal performance.
Eyes on that prize, states launched plans tying teacher pay and promotions to student achievement, giving state officials more control over local schools and overhauling data tracking and assessment systems.
Then the game got tricky: Teachers unions had to be on board.
In the end, only 11 states and the District of Columbia ended up with money from the program this year. Wisconsin got nothing.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council had helped kill or watered down critical parts of the state’s proposal, with the president of the teachers union attaching a letter to the application that one participant described as “grudging.” In the end, only 12% of the union’s local leaders endorsed a plan that might have brought in more than $250 million in school funding to Wisconsin.
Related: WEAC tops lobbyist spending list
The Wisconsin Education Association Council spent nearly twice as much as any other organization to lobby lawmakers in 2009, according to the Government Accountability Board.
The state’s largest teachers union reported spending more than $1.5 million and 7,239 hours lobbying, almost twice as much as the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, which spent the second-highest amount on lobbying in the state.
One aspect of the union’s lobbying effort was largely successful, with the state Legislature repealing the 16-year-old qualified economic offer law that restricted teachers’ pay and benefits.