The debate over whether teachers unions help or halt education reform has caused much controversy among educators, parents, and communities as a whole. Critics are up in arms over the alleged hold unions have on education policy—specifically regarding how difficult it is to fire an ineffective tenured teacher. Proponents of the unions argue that they protect teachers' rights, support professionalism, and aren't against reform.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute took an in-depth look at the role unions play in each state. The study ranks teacher unions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on resources and membership, involvement in politics, scope of bargaining, state policies, and perceived influence. Click through the gallery to learn why unions were chosen as having the most or least influence.
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#51. Arizona (One of the 5 Weakest)
Due to a lack of political involvement, unfavorable state policies for teachers, and little to no influence on education policy, the teacher unions in Arizona are the weakest in the country. Also taken into consideration is teacher evaluations and layoffs. According to the study, "Arizona law requires that student achievement data significantly inform teacher evaluations, and it does not allow districts to consider seniority in determining layoffs—positions typically opposed by unions."
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#50. Florida (One of the 5 Weakest)
With low marks on membership, political involvement, and influence, Florida has some of the weakest teacher unions in the nation. While no strikes are allowed in the Sunshine State, teacher unions still have collective bargaining benefits such as the power to negotiate wages, hours, and working conditions.
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#49. South Carolina (One of the 5 Weakest)
Teachers in South Carolina are not permitted to bargain with their employers for higher pay or better working conditions. They also are prohibited to strike. These factors contribute to the state's ranking. Despite the low membership and lack of bargaining opportunities, the teacher unions in South Carolina benefit from tenure granted after two years, while the national norm is three.
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#48. Arkansas (One of the 5 Weakest)
The teacher unions in Arkansas have the second lowest membership rates in the country, with only 35 percent of teachers belonging to a union. The state expenditure on education in Arkansas is at 17 percent.
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#47 Virginia (One of the 5 Weakest)
While the teacher unions in Virginia are ranked the weakest when it comes to political involvement and scope of bargaining, they are one of the strongest in their state policies. The success of teacher unions with state policies may come from local school boards assigned to each school division. Over the years, the school boards have controlled key areas, recommending that student achievement be considered during teacher evaluations and tenure. The bargaining in Virginia is kept at a strict minimum, with unions not being allowed to strike or request higher pay.
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#5. Rhode Island (One of the 5 Strongest)
With over 97 percent membership, the teacher unions in Rhode Island have more members than Hawaii and Oregon. Although they have a high membership of active political participants, according to the study, the unions "face a political environment that has become more contentious of late, or at least more divided."
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#4. Pennsylvania (One of the 5 Strongest)
Pennsylvania's teacher unions have great influence in decisions made on education in the state. Their involvement in politics is strong—20 percent of delegates are members of teacher unions.
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#3. Montana (One of the 5 Strongest)
The state of Montana requires collective bargaining from their teacher unions and also allows for strikes. Collective bargaining is the process of negotiations between teachers and their employers to decide on wages, hours of work, and fringe benefits—all with the mission of improving working conditions in schools. According to the study, "Many of Montana’s education policies are closely aligned with traditional teacher union interests." This includes a lack of support for performance pay and no requirement for the inclusion of student achievement data in teacher evaluations or tenure decisions.
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#2. Oregon (One of the 5 Strongest)
Because 95 percent of teachers in Oregon are members of unions, stakeholders perceive the teacher unions in this state to have a high level of influence. In past elections, Democratic candidates needed support from the teacher unions in Oregon to be elected into state office. The strength of the teacher unions stems from their success in protecting money spent on education.
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#1. Hawaii (One of the 5 Strongest)
As the state with the strongest teacher unions, the teachers’ voices on educational politics in Hawaii ring loud and clear. Members of teacher unions comprise 20.2 percent of Hawaii’s delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. The union in this state has a large influence on politics and union donations were 1.5 percent of the total contributions received by candidates for state office.
Christina previously worked in production and publicity at Red Hen Press in Los Angeles. She studied modern literature and linguistics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She enjoys writing about health, culture, food, and the environment for various print and online publications. Email Christina | @christinakhar