School Absenteeism Grows, and Teachers Unions Don't Care

Show Notes

Education activist Tiffany Justice is blunt about the problems facing the public schools since the Covid lockdowns.

“Kids believed us when the nation showed them that school wasn’t that important,” the co-founder of Moms for Liberty tells Peter Schweizer and co-host Eric Eggers. “Showing up and being in class was kind of a negotiable thing, depending on adults’ wants, instead of kids’ needs.”

Joining Peter and Eric on the Drill Down podcast, Justice responded to recent statistics showing the average rate of chronic absenteeism from school nationwide has risen from a pre-pandemic level of 15% to 26% last year. This means missing at least 10 percent of a school year, or about 18 days, for any reason.

Justice noted in particular a report researched by the Government Accountability Institute that documented the effects of teachers’ unions on educational achievement in the US as a key to understanding the problems.

“I know you guys at the Government Accountability Institute are very focused on unions, and we all got to see the cozy relationship that the Biden administration has with the teachers’ unions,” she said of the Covid school lockdowns. “I think Americans got an inside look – a peek behind the education curtain.”

American public schools were closed for months during the Covid pandemic, lockdowns that were shown to have been needless. Student reading scores and grade-level attainment plummeted due to the closures and have not recovered. GAI documented how Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, lobbied the CDC for longer lockdowns behind the scenes.

Eggers, a parent of four school-age children, notes that “only 33% of fourth graders are reading on grade level.”

One reason for that is an effect of student absenteeism, which hurts not only the absent child but that child’s classmates when a teacher must proceed more slowly to try to help them catch up.

Even for frustrated teachers, another problem they face is their labor unions are more focused on politics than on educational excellence, a point the GAI report documents in detail. What does Justice think those teachers can do about it?

“I think of speaking out and knowing that you’re not alone,” she says. “We’re seeing every day more violence in schools and teachers are concerned about school safety both from the outside and inside the school… I think teachers need to start having their voices heard.”

She also recommends state policy changes that prevent union dues from being automatically deducted from teachers’ pay, as Florida has done.

Justice is particularly concerned these days with a steep rise in violent incidents inside schools.

“Americans are seeing just a fraction of the violence that is going on inside of public schools,” she said, adding that so-called “restorative justice” programs put in place by the federal education department have caused schools to hold back on disciplining violent students. She pointed out that the Parkland school shooter was part of something called the “Promise Program,” as an example of this kind of soft approach to school discipline leading to greater levels of violence.

Justice and her organization advocate against such policies and do so at the local level. She encourages parents to become involved in their local school boards, where often hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year, and to run to sit on them.

“I believe that we need to reclaim and reform our public schools. It’s a captured institution. Without doing that, within a generation, we will lose our country,” Justice says. “There is absolutely no doubt we can fix the issues at the border. We can work on our economy and foreign policy. But if our nation is crumbling from within, we lose.”