Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Albert Shanker is Always Right

A study hot off the press on the influence of special interest groups on school board elections cites the late AFT President Shanker, who wrote in 1979, “If teachers control both sides of the bargaining table in a substantial number of school districts, we should find many teachers with huge salaries, greatly reduced class sizes, longer holidays and vacations than ever before – you name it.”

And that’s pretty much the conclusion of Stanford political scientist Sarah Anzia in “Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups” (hat tip to Flypaper). Anzia found that in school board elections held “off cycle,” i.e., not on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the primary special interest group, teacher unions, reap large benefits. From the paper:
I have tested the theory using data on school district elections and teacher salaries in the U.S., and the results are remarkably consistent with the theory: School districts that hold off-cycle elections pay beginning teachers 1.5 percent more and their experienced teachers over 3 percent more per year in base salary than districts that hold on-cycle elections. The fact that the off-cycle district salary premium is greater for senior teachers is consistent with the literature on teacher unions, which finds that teacher union leadership tends to be more responsive to the needs of senior teachers than beginning teachers, Moreover, this salary advantage is related to the decrease in voter turnout that accompanies the separation of school district elections from state and national elections.
Anzia does considers whether other factors could account for the correlation between higher settlements, particularly for teachers with more seniority, and off-cycle elections. She concludes,
It is possible that something other than teacher union influence explains these results, although it is highly unlikely. Teachers are the most active interest group in school board elections and have strong pecuniary incentives to participate, and therefore it makes sense that they fare better when school board elections are off-cycle and turnout is low. One Michigan school board member explained the effect of election timing as follows: “The November election keeps unions from controlling the vote. If you have 3,000 people voting in June, teachers can get 1,600 people there; if you have 16,000 people voting, teachers are a minor factor” (Allen and Plank 2005, 519).
Yet another argument for moving NJ school board elections to November. Too bad that a bill that does just that, sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner, has been stuck in State Legislative limbo for years. In a recent NJ Spotlight piece, Sen. Turner blamed the lack of will among legislators to the "intractability" of the "status quo." She said, ""I think some people are worried that sometimes when you increase turnout, you lose control. But when it’s this kind of money, we should have more people weighing in."

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