At a United Negro College Fund Minnesota Leaders’ Luncheon Wednesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he wanted to be "blunt" about the power of the teachers' union.
"I'm not trying to bash. I'm just calling out what I think is a chokepoint in the discussion," Pawlenty said. The governor's unkind words about the teachers' union are nothing new: The governor, of late, has repeatedly gone to the well of Education Minnesota criticism and said lawmakers, particularly Democrats, are too wedded to the power of the union.
But U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, was in the audience and decided not to take the non-bashing in stride.
"If Democrats are (beholden) to teachers' unions and we have to reflect on how we put kids first and that relationship, aren't Republicans fascination with tax cuts, leading to structural deficits, which are causing many school districts across Minnesota to seek out the effort to revenue through levy and other things like that -- Robbinsdale, for instance, is looking at laying off teachers -- is this also part of the equation?" Ellison said, to murmurs and some 'ooohs' from the audience. "If Democrats are going to look at our relationship with teachers unions, aren't Republicans going to look at their relationship with just trying to cut taxes, which cause these deficits, which cause layoff of teachers."
The governor thanked the Congressman for the question and said it was a fair point.
But, he went on, "There is no moment in time regardless of tax policy, regardless of resources where somebody had solved this problem to scale. So in Minneapolis, for example, state, federal, local resources, they spend north of $12,000 a student and have results that most of you would say are not where they need to be."
Given the negative correlation, Pawlenty has made between good schools and high performing students and an overly strong unions, we checked with Education Minnesota about the states that have – and lack – strong teachers unions.
According to Education Minnesota, in no particular order, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and California have strong unions and Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama are known for lacking strong unions – or any union at all.
According to the ACT test results from 2009, strong unioned Massachusetts was the highest achieving and Minnesota, New Jersey, New York and California were in the 20 top in average composit test scores. Weak unioned Mississippi was last, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Texas were all in the bottom 20 as was Michigan, which has a strong union.