April 8, 2019

It’s just common sense that a person hired to be a teacher should actually be required to teach. But in Jersey City, New Jersey, that common sense isn’t quite so common.

The collective bargaining agreement between the Jersey City School District and the Jersey City Education Association requires the government to pay the salaries of two full-time teachers who do not teach, but spend their full time performing union work. This practice, known as “release time,” is quite pervasive in New Jersey and in other states, but the Jersey City agreement is a particularly bad one. These two teachers are paid a little over $100,000 per year, adding up to about $1.1 million over the life of the agreement. That’s more than $1 million directly out of taxpayers’ pockets—to support union activities instead of the teaching duties they were hired to perform!

The Goldwater Institute is challenging this agreement as a violation of New Jersey’s Constitution. The state constitution includes a “gift clause” that bans the state and local governments from giving money or property to any association. In this case, the state is giving taxpayer money to fund activity that supports the union’s private interests.

After the trial court sided with the school district, the state court of appeals recently heard oral argument in the case. Goldwater Institute Director of National Litigation Jon Riches—who’s the lead attorney on the case—joined the radio show Issues & Ideas with Chris DeBello over the weekend to talk about the phenomenon of release time and the latest on the lawsuit. Riches says, “I don’t think it should be a controversial proposition, right? Public dollars should be spent for public purposes, not private purposes, and public employees should be expected to perform the duties they were hired to perform instead of performing duties for a private entity that has distinct and separate private interests.” You can listen to the full interview here.

The court of appeals ruling could have major implications for the future of release time—in New Jersey and elsewhere. Stay tuned.

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