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With TV and print ads, group takes aim at WTU

TV viewers this week will see a political attack ad that -- surprisingly, given the season -- doesn't feature a candidate. Rather, it takes aim at the Washington Teachers' Union (WTU).

"I think it's great how they put politics above my child's education," says a blond mom. "It's cool how the union makes it almost impossible to fire bad teacher," says a kid standing in front of a locker. "D.C.'s teachers union has failed our kids, played politics and now is threatening to file a lawsuit to block recent progress," a voice-over says.

The ads are the creation of the Center for Union Facts, and its spokeswoman, Sarah Longwell, says the campaign is a direct response to threats aired by the WTU in late July to sue over the performance-based firings of teachers. "As soon as we saw that they were threatening to file a lawsuit, we thought a response was necessary," Longwell said Monday.

WTU President George Parker says the effort is badly misguided, given teachers' ratification this year of a contract widely hailed as a breakthrough for school labor relations. "It's really contradictory on one hand that our new contract is looked at as a model for education reform around the country, and now all of a sudden we're against reform," he said. "That's amazing. Clearly we're not against reform."

Parker noted that the union hasn't filed a lawsuit over the July teacher firings but is pursuing arbitration with the city.

The campaign mirrors anti-teacher-union campaigns mounted by the Center for Union Facts (CUF) in other cities, including Newark. It's being launched on the first day of voting in a hotly contested mayoral race in which education is a key issue, and it comes a few days after the WTU officially endorsed Vincent Gray's mayoral candidacy -- making the ads' silence on the race somewhat odd. But because CUF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it is prohibited from advocating for a particular candidate, and Longwell denied any connection to the mayoral race.

The Washington Post's Amy Joyce has written about the group's founding in 2006 by lobbyist Rick Berman. CUF also has weighed in on the "card check" debate that has percolated in recent years. Its most recent tax return, from the 2008 tax year, showed yearly revenue of $4.4 million, with more than half a million dollars spent that year on a "national project to educate the public on teachers' unions." Longwell said the group's donors include "business foundations, union members and the general public."

Longwell says her group had high hopes for the WTU, given the contract's ratification this year. "But the second these reforms are implemented," she says, "the teachers union is back standing in the way."

Parker raised questions about the campaign's timing. "It is geared toward discrediting the union as a reform organization," he said.

A full-page ad also ran on the back of The Post's Express commuter paper Monday, featuring a picture of a cute gap-toothed kid alongside the headline "I Won't Cure Cancer" -- thanks, the ad says, to the hidebound ways of the WTU. The CUF is also running a billboard truck around town, including visits to the headquarters of the WTU; its parent, the American Federation of Teachers; and the National Education Association.

By Mike DeBonis  |  August 30, 2010; 6:53 PM ET
Categories:  DCision 2010 , The District  
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Comments

It seems that the group running the anti-teachers union ad has more money than sense. The Union in DC, with the help of the national union, secured a great contract for its teachers and Michelle Rhee got to use her IMPACT evaluation form. In fact I had to laugh at the ad that had the kid saying, "I won't cure cancer". I guess according to these nuts without the union he would.

To much money goes into this nonsense. Can't these people think of something better to do?

Posted by: peterdc | August 31, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

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