This School Choice Week—which runs through Friday, January 28—many activists are celebrating 2021 as the “year of school choice” and hailing advances that charter schools, private school subsidies, and other parental choice programs made in the wake of the year of school closures that was 2020. The advances continue as more states propose and enact programs to fund students instead of systems.
For teachers unions, the advances are a developing Greek tragedy. Their hubris has led to nemesis from state leaders enacting policies to break the union-education deep state monopoly. They believed that monopoly government-run unionized schools were so popular, that school boards were so certain to remain under their control, and that they could jawbone the Biden administration to coerce jurisdictions that might oppose their demands to lock down schools and force-mask toddlers into toeing their line. But as school choice policies and the state leaders advancing them prevail, catharsis comes to students and parents who have suffered so much at the hands of teachers unions and the deep state.
When schools first closed in March 2020, the action was widely supported amid widespread fear and ignorance about the effects of COVID-19 on children. But it rapidly became apparent that unlike the Great Influenza of 1918–1919, COVID disproportionally spared the young from complications and death. By summer 2020, it was clear schools could reopen, and they did in parts of the country, most prominently Florida.
But in places where the teachers unions held more sway than they do in the Sunshine State, schools remained shuttered—excuse me, open for virtual learning. Data showed as early as August 2020 that the power of teachers unions to compel membership was more strongly correlated with school closures than COVID risk. The longest and most extensive closures in the nation hit California, Oregon, and Maryland—three states whose education establishments and political leaders proved unwilling to challenge the unions’ industrial action.
Teachers unions did this because they thought they could get whatever they wanted on policy issues from education to taxation to government-run health care by holding the nation’s children hostage. That was the great hubris of Randi Weingarten and the other teachers union officers.
In Greek tragedy, Nemesis conceptualizes or deifies divine reprisal against the unjust—against those who have displayed hubris. For the teachers unions, nemesis has begun to arrive. It began early in 2021, as state legislators began passing legislation to expand school choice programs, often citing teachers union obstinacy over school reopening as a reason for immediate action. That policy activism made 2021 “the year of school choice.”
By November, nemesis came for Democratic politicians who joined themselves at the hip with teachers unions. The night before the Virginia gubernatorial election, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, a former governor seeking his old post and a longtime ally of the Clinton political family, held a rally in the Democratic stronghold county of Fairfax headlined by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, the public face of teachers unionism and the COVID lockdowns and mask mandates. In a state President Joe Biden had carried by 10 points in 2020, McAuliffe would lose the 2021 election by 2 points to Republican private-equity businessman Glenn Youngkin. Democrats also lost control of the lower house of the state legislature and the two statewide “row offices” of lieutenant governor and attorney general.
And when that new slate took office, it challenged the teachers unions from day one: Gov. Youngkin issued two executive orders, one rescinding his predecessor’s statewide school mask mandate and another prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory—a radical-left concept the teachers unions have promoted—in K-12 classrooms. Their legislative agenda includes bringing school choice to Virginia, and rogue Democrats in the Democratic-controlled state senate have expressed openness to new choice programs.
What began in Virginia may spread nationally, if current public opinion trends continue. Opinion polling shows the Biden administration, which was elected with support from the teachers unions and has carried out their agenda in office, is deeply unpopular. The “parents’ revolt” that carried Youngkin into office may be only the first.
The purpose of ancient tragedy was to bring catharsis—spiritual cleansing—to the audience and participants. This catharsis would see justice completed and the motivations to hubris taken away. For now, it seems only one thing can put the teachers unions in their place: defeat. And as more parents are given choice and more students are restored to normal life, the American people can obtain catharsis.