In states, cities, and school districts across the country, taxpayers are paying public employees to work exclusively for their private unions, instead of doing the jobs they were hired to do. And as a new Goldwater Institute investigative report out this week shows, we have no idea how big the problem is because many governments don’t bother to track it.
In Money for Nothing: Taxpayer-Funded “Release Time” Gives Government Employee Unions No Work and All Pay, Goldwater Institute National Investigative Journalist Mark Flatten lays out a thought-provoking study of the prevalence of “release time,” a practice by which government employees receive their full salaries and benefits by working full-time on union business. For example, under release time, a teacher is paid not to teach, but to negotiate higher wages, participate in political activities, and attend union conferences. It’s a practice that the Goldwater Institute is fighting in state courts nationwide, and in our new report we identify just how widespread it has become.
For his new report—the first in a forthcoming series looking at release time in America—Flatten analyzed the practices of 150 jurisdictions, three in each state, to learn about their specific release time practices, and he was able to document more than 400,000 hours of paid release time taking place every year. But this number does not even come close to the actual number of hours public employees expend on their union—because many governments simply do not keep track of release time hours.
“Of the 150 agencies surveyed, only 82 were able to produce data on the number of hours they allowed in release time, including 44 jurisdictions that reported zero hours,” Flatten writes. “Even fewer provided cost figures. The rest generally admitted they do not track the hours and cost of release time, or said it would take extensive research to determine if the data exists.”
While America’s colleges and universities should be embracing open discourse, the unfortunate reality is that free speech is frequently not welcome on campus. That’s something Rae’Lee Klein understands well.
In August, Klein—a journalism student at Arizona State University and manager of the student radio station—shared a New York Post article on her personal Twitter account about the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The article discussed Blake’s history, including his criminal record, and in her tweet, Klein encouraged her followers to consider all the facts surrounding this horrific event.
Klein’s tweet was met with outrage from her classmates, who insisted that ASU remove her from her managing duties as the radio station. And unfortunately, the university did just that: Rather than promote the exchange of different points of view, Arizona State University removed Klein from her managing position, violating Klein’s free speech rights.
While many students may have given up, Klein chose to stand for her First Amendment rights. Represented by attorney Jack Wilenchik, a member of Goldwater’s American Freedom Network, Klein filed a lawsuit against the university asserting that it violated her free expression rights and her rights under Arizona law.
If state legislators pitched an “education funding” plan that gave just 13 cents of each new dollar to teachers, what would you call it? Perhaps a waste, an insult, or a scam?
Or perhaps just Prop 208.
Of course, Prop 208 (also known as the “Invest in Ed” initiative) didn’t come from state legislators—it came from $4 million dollars poured in from political organizers in Portland, Oregon. But in any case, out of the hundreds of millions of dollars Prop 208 would raise via higher taxes, it would put just 13 cents of each new dollar toward increasing teacher pay. And if that weren’t bad enough, that would be an improvement over the spending behavior of our school districts over the past 40 years.
As shown in a new Goldwater analysis, while K-12 funding has increased more than $60,000 per class of 20 students (in inflation adjusted terms) over the past four decades, Arizona school districts have put less than ten cents per dollar of that increase toward boosting teacher pay.
Prop 208 has another terrible flaw. If passed, its $1 billion price tag would put Arizona on par with California and New York as one of the worst states in the country when it comes to taxes — devastating Arizona’s economy.