Teachers union power, not rate of COVID transmission, determines whether schools are open for instruction, study finds

By | March 31, 2021

Teachers unions have often demanded lower community spreads of the coronavirus before they are willing to return teachers to the classroom.

For example, before United Teachers Los Angeles will agree to in-person learning, it has demanded that Los Angeles County have a daily rate of COVID-19 cases no higher than 10 per 100,000 population.

But new research from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas suggests that the power of teachers unions, and not the rate of community transmission, is what drove a school district decision to have remote learning versus in-person during the fall 2020 semester.

The researchers modeled the decision to have in-person versus remote learning in 250 of the largest school districts in the United States. Since more powerful unions tend to negotiate longer, more detailed collective bargaining agreements, the researchers used the length of a collective bargaining agreement as a measure of the union’s power.

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They found that every one-page increase in a teachers union collective bargaining agreement reduced by 0.2% the chances that a school district would open with in-person learning in the fall 2020 semester and increased by 0.2% the chances that remote learning would be used.

The study also found that teachers union power reduced the chances that a school district using remote instruction would return to in-person learning during the fall, while it increased the length of time a district remained in remote instruction.

The researchers also looked at the impact that COVID-19 hospitalization rates had on whether school districts employed remote versus in-person instruction. They could find no effect.

“There was literally no correlation between COVID hospitalization rates and whether or not” schools were open or closed, Bradley Marianno, director of the UNLV Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment and lead author on the paper, told Fox News.

The study also found that schools were more likely to have in-person instruction if a district had a higher percentage of Trump voters and white students.

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Nevertheless, teachers unions have proven influential with their demands on community spread. Those demands made their way into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reopening schools released in February. The CDC recommends that schools only go to full in-person learning when the surrounding county has an adequately low transmission rate.

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