The Real Effect of Teachers’ Union Contracts

Mike Antonucci

It’s going to be difficult for some to resist the temptation to argue about what effect, if any, teacher contracts have on student test scores from state to state, but it entirely misses the salient point that the purpose of teacher contracts is not, and never has been, to increase student test scores. In states with collective bargaining, contracts define the salaries, benefits and working conditions of public education employees. Since compensation accounts for upwards of 80% of all public school expenditures, we might learn something about the “real effect of teachers’ union contracts” if we compare per-pupil spending in states with binding teacher contracts to states without. Here, I use U.S. Census Bureau figures for 2007-08:

Average per-pupil spending in AL, AR, AZ, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TX, and VA – $8,904
Average per-pupil spending in the other 40 states and DC – $10,745

Stating there is no significant difference between bargaining and non-bargaining states when it comes to student achievement is not a winning argument for unions. We pay a 20.7% premium to have unions. Isn’t the onus on them to demonstrate their worth to students, parents and taxpayers?