Remarks of Dr. William J. Bennett, Chairman Of Conservative Leaders for Education before the Pennsylvania Senate Majority Policy Committee

Download the full testimony here: Dr. Bennett Written Testimony Pennsylvania Hearing

Chairman Argall, Members of the committee, thank you for having me here today. I want to thank Senator Eichelberger for his invitation and for his leadership on this important issue.

Senator John Eichelberger is a member of group of state policy leaders – mostly education committee chairs like John – that I am proud to serve as Chairman of — Conservative Leaders for Education, or CL4E. I am so impressed with the dedication to service by our members, like John, and the hard work day-in and day-out they put in to improve our schools and educational system. They and all of you are not recognized nearly enough for this very difficult, very important work.

I will get to the important legislation the Senator has recently introduced shortly, and I know there are some very talented lawyers and experts here who will delve into the various details. But I wanted to start out with a bigger picture.

The Janus decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is certainly an important legal milestone, but to me it has the potential to be so much more. That is what leads me to think of the decision in terms of the three P’s. The 3 P’s are:

  • The Premise
  • The Prohibition; and
  • The Promise.

The premise is the bedrock First Amendment principle that every individual should control their own speech. That premise is at its height involving speech on public policy and other important matters of the day.

The Prohibition is the fact that courts need to intervene to protect individuals when the premise is violated. In blunt terms, the prohibition is against coerced speech, a concept antithetical to all of our shared values.

The first amendment premise and ensuring the prohibition is honored are important aspects of everything we are here to talk about today, and aspects that many very capable groups and individuals are working hard on every day. However, my focus, and the focus of CL4E, is really on the third P – the Promise. The promise Janus holds, particularly for our schools and out teachers.

The promise is that Janus could be a critical turning point for our schools and the profession of teaching IF the right decisions are made.

Our focus at CL4E is to highlight the incredible opportunity – The Promise — we believe this moment holds for teachers and schools to rethink decades-entrenched thinking and practices. To rethink teacher professionalism and all the positive implications that could flow from that.

Our focus is to help state education leaders, like Sen. Eichelberger, (Representative Klunk, if she speaks before you) and yourselves, to make solid policy choices at the state level, creating fair frameworks to encourage this rethinking and realize the promise.

At its core Janus is all about individual control and individual responsibility. Not coincidentally, those are also core concepts of professionalism.

Individuals are given the freedom to take charge of their own development as a professional

All decision-making is focused on achieving the best possible results with every student, whatever form that takes. (That vision is in stark contrast to the far-too-often current focus on fighting over who gets the money for every student or how to “win” the next round of bargaining.)

Individual responsibility for being the best possible professional and the results of individual work.

And yes…being compensated fairly as a professional, and as with all professionals, based mostly upon excellence in practice and results.

This could be a moment when teacher professionalism is embraced, but that will require the right decisions at all levels.

Some have asked, “Why is an educational policy group focused on this Supreme Court decision?”

The answers are simple. Schools are the most impacted institutions by this decision. There are 500 directly impacted school districts and over 3,300 directly impacted individual public schools here in Pennsylvania. Teachers are, by far, the single most impacted group. More than 50% of public union members in Pennsylvania are teachers – we are talking about almost 180,000 individuals.

However, it is not just the numbers. The efforts of teachers’ unions – specially at the state and national leadership level – as you on this committee I am sure know extremely well, directly impact every education policy discussion and effort to improve.

At the state level, too often discussions that start about creating new educational options for students and families devolve into a fight about who gets the money.

At all levels, often common sense gets displaced by a “collective bargaining mentality.” Any idea, no matter how good, becomes a bargaining chip. The result is that there is no room to maneuver; no ability to put students’ needs at the center of the discussion and design a system that can flexibly respond to what students need and our best teachers can provide.

But most fundamentally—the conceptual basis of Janus COULD have a very positive impact at the individual teacher level. It could have an impact on teacher professionalism – how that is viewed both by teachers and everyone else involved with our schools.

The promise, as I have said, is not self-executing. What does all of this mean here and now for state policy leaders like yourselves? It means definition must be given to the broad strokes of the Janus decision.

Unreasonable forces will prefer to litigate this uncertainty and maintain vague or no guidance on what “affirmative consent” means in Janus, and what are reasonable, fair rules around the new “opt in” requirement.

Unreasonable forces will attempt to undermine the decision at the state level as we speak here in Pennsylvania. Legislation has already been introduced that takes away the right to a private vote and allows unions direct and ongoing access to the personal information of all employees rather they consent or not. Some states are attempting to place tight windows on when employees can make decisions.

If state legislatures do not clearly articulate and define the parameters of union membership in their state in the wake of this decision, then we will have years and years of litigation and “tests” on the system which will not be fair to school systems, teachers and the students they serve.

All participants affected by this decision should want reasonable and clear rules. Nobody disputes the right to organize or associate. Janus simply restored the proper balance between that right and individual’s rights to control their own speech.

The rules around how to become a union member, how to leave the union, where and when conversations about membership occur are important for both employers and employees, and these rules should be clear and predictable for all parties. That is exactly what Senator Eichelberger’s important piece of legislation does.

You will hear much more from the speakers after me about the important details of Sen. Eichelberger’s comprehensive proposal. The details are critical, but I also want to urge you to stay focused on the fundamental premise at stake: individual control and responsibility. Because that is now the law of the land and because this new environment holds the promise to liberate the bold thinkers currently held back in our education system.

The fair rules and procedures in the Eichelberger bill are a great start towards realizing the promise of Janus. Let me just talk a bit about the longer term, because in the longer term there is much more we can do.

State policy makers should work to create an environment for teachers where they receive professional support disassociated from any political agenda. All teachers deserve access to affordable professional insurance, fair decision-making processes, and reliable information about compensation and benefits, regardless of membership or not in any union. With this support structure and because of the Janus decision, we believe many, if not most teachers will choose a more professionalized course as opposed to the one-size fits all, bureaucratic, and too often hyper-political unions that create a confrontational dynamic with local and state policy-makers.

Everyone involved has an important role to play. Janus also places on state and local leaders a responsibility to create new and alternative systems that compensate and promote teachers in ways not possible within the existing toxic labor framework, driven by the collective bargaining mentality. We all recognize great teachers are the most important catalyst in improving student performance, so let’s work together to find ways to reward them – just like the most effective and productive employees are awarded in every other profession.

Staying focused on the premise – individual control and individual responsibility — will help unlock the promise.

A decade from now will we be able to look back and say this was a turning point for schools and the profession of teaching, or will we have to say it was just another lost opportunity to do better for our students, our teachers, the teaching profession, and our nation?

The Promise is not automatic. Everything depends on individual choices:

  • The choices you as policy makers make now to implement this important decision.
  • The choices judges will make on these issues if not made here.
  • The choices school district leaders make.
  • The choices teachers make about the fundamental nature of their profession, and what they aspire for it to be.

Thank you, Chairman Argall and Committee, thank you Sen. Eichelberger and any other members here, and with that I would be glad to take any questions.

CL4E President Karen Nussle: Back to School With New Opportunities & Strong Leadership

Since it’s Back to School time and for students and their families it seems to be a good time to take a look at some of the new policies that CL4E members have worked to enact recently to improve local education systems. Below are five new policies that are improving the overall quality of education in states.

  1. Missouri: Business leaders now have an easier time getting into classrooms to share their expertise and unique experiences through a Visiting Scholar Certification that can be renewed twice. The legislation from state Rep. Kathy Swan replaced a previous system that forced a lengthy and arduous path to the classroom for those looking to provide students with real-world knowledge and experience.
  2. Georgia: Parents who choose to send their children to state-sponsored charter schools are now assured that the funding formula will be equal to traditional neighborhood schools, thanks to the leadership of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The new formula ends the discrimination against families who want to take advantage of options beyond traditional public schools.
  3. Arizona: A new results-based funding system that rewards and encourages schools that produce strong results will be in its second year of implementation. Legislation from state Rep. Paul Boyer created a new system that prioritizes schools serving at-risk populations and gives educators incentives to help students excel. About $38 million was distributed based on a results-oriented system in the 2017-18 school year. This second year effort will continue to provide additional data to the state on the benefits this program is bringing to students.
  4. Oklahoma: High school juniors and seniors now have expanded opportunities for concurrent enrollment, thanks to a bill from state Sen. Stanislawski. Students will be able to start earning college credits in the comfort of their high school classrooms or online. Sen. Stanislawski’s legislation shifted the enrollment standard from university entrance requirements to course readiness.
  5. Utah: School districts may now use property tax revenues for capital development or to service debt for technology programs and projects. State Sen. Howard Stephenson took the lead on making sure that districts can keep up with the ever-growing demand in classrooms for students to have the latest technology.

You can read more about these strong policies and others that are improving schools for students and their families in our 2018 Policy Catalog: Inspiring Ideas for Today’s Leaders.

FOX NEWS – Bill Bennett: States are resisting the Janus decision – Will union workers ever get a break?

The much-discussed Supreme Court decision in the case of Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) is now just over a month old, but already we see states reacting to its important central holding. At its core, the high court ruling simply held that no money can be taken from a state or local government employee’s paycheck and transferred to a union unless that employee first affirmatively consents.

Many refer to this new requirement as “opt-in.” The reasoning behind the employee’s decision is as basic as the Supreme Court’s holding: The First Amendment does not allow any governmental entity to force an individual to fund speech unless he or she first agrees to that funding.

Teachers are the largest category of employees affected by the Janus decision. The biggest impacts of the high court ruling could be to allow school districts to break out of a decades-old collective bargaining mindset, and to encourage a new spirit of professionalism in the teaching profession.

However, as I argued in a Fox News op-ed when the decision was issued, those outcomes are not self-executing. The outcomes depend upon how state and local policymakers and teachers react.

Unfortunately, some of the first state reactions harken back to days when states purposely resisted the realization of individual rights after the Supreme Court had identified violations of those rights.

State leaders should embrace the Supreme Court’s decision and create solid procedures and rules that implement the new opt-in requirement and fill in the operational details.

Sadly, this nation has suffered through similar chapters of overt state-based resistance to our Supreme Court’s constitutional holdings, such as when some stood in the schoolhouse door defying clear constitutional rights the court had articulated requiring school desegregation.

It might behoove today’s practitioners of this resistance strategy to consider how their intellectual forefathers are viewed by posterity.

Take Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, for example, who recently told all affected employees that Janus decision essentially does not mean anything. He wrote: “In other words, the decision in Janus does not alter any pre-existing obligation of a public employer to deduct dues from union members.”

That is patent nonsense. If that really was the case, why would the union leadership be so upset?

The reality is that the Janus ruling articulated a right for employees that had long been violated and created the new opt-in test that must be met before a governmental body can transfer part of an employee’s pay to a union.

The Supreme Court held that the opt-in must be “freely given” and shown by “clear and compelling” evidence. It said that opt-in “cannot be presumed.” This is new territory for all states and for all employees of state and local governments, including school districts.

Maryland Attorney General Frosh – and similarly minded state leaders in New Jersey, Rhode Island and a host of other states advancing these nullification strategies – may follow that strategy to the bitter end.

There is a better way forward.

[Continue reading]

CL4E Presents Over 20 Inspiring Policies for Education Reform

New Catalog Highlights Innovative, Conservative Ideas that Work for Students and Parents

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – Conservative Leaders for Education released its 2018 policy catalog “What Works In State Education Policy: Inspiring Ideas for Today’s Leaders” that highlights legislation state lawmakers are implementing to advance smart, common-sense education policy.

More than 20 of the policy initiatives discussed in the catalog have been signed into law. The policies advance four principles that conservatives view as critical to ensuring that all students receive a high-quality education regardless of where they live. These principles are the founding principles of Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E): Local Control, Parent Choices, Accountability, and Quality Content.

“Conservative Leaders for Education dedicates itself to creating a strong, conservative network of state policy leaders,” said CL4E Chairman William J. Bennett. “We know that our founding principles provide an excellent framework for providing an education that will help students succeed in life. Our members understand that we can improve our schools by developing and implementing practical solutions to problems.”

As the catalog notes, education policy throughout the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and U.S. territories is a patchwork of complicated, redundant and burdensome laws and regulations that start at the federal level and seep out into the states. The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marks the first time in more than 210 years that the federal government has liberated states from burdensome compliance requirements.

“Education policies guides the decisions of school administrators and educators who often tie themselves into figurative knots to make sure they are in compliance while trying to teach students,” said CL4E President Karen Nussle. “ESSA coincides with a time when more conservatives are holding key state policy positions than ever before. This is a real opportunity to set a course for education policies that will strengthen good schools and good teaching while giving parents the information they need to demand schools are accountable to their expectations.”

CL4E now comprises senior education policymakers representing 18 states, having added four new members this summer: Arkansas Senate Education Chair Jane English, Indiana House Education Chair Bob Benning, Iowa Senate Education Chair Amy Sinclair, and Pennsylvania Senate Education Chair John Eichelberger.

**The 2018 policy catalog is available here.**


ABOUT CL4E: Conservative Leaders for Education is a campaign comprised of leading state policymakers focused on ensuring conservative principles gain traction in state policy decisions. CL4E is a 501(c)3 that does not affiliate with any political party. Learn more about us at

CL4E Chairman Bill Bennett and President Karen Nussle: High Praise for SCOTUS Union Decision

BREAKING: Supreme Court Upholds Mark Janus’ First Amendment Rights Over AFSCME

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – This morning the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision that public employees should be allowed to stop paying union dues. Mark Janus is a public employee from Illinois who has taken his case for the freedom to stop paying AFSCME to the U.S. Supreme Court. He believes that being forced to pay a labor union as a condition of his employment is a violation of his First Amendment. This morning the Supreme Court announced that it agreed with him.

According to CL4E Chairman and former Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan, Dr. Bill Bennett, “This decision has changed education policy history, and now ensures that unions aren’t playing politics with our teachers’ hard-earned dollars, when they have no choice.”

President of CL4E Karen Nussle also praised the decision, “Public opinion is clearly on the side of the Supreme Court’s decision.  Only a small percentage of people think it’s right for teachers to have their pay taken without their permission.  Teachers, and all government workers, should have a choice, and exercising that choice should not put their jobs at risk.  This clearly strikes a blow to the unions’ ability to build a political empire on the backs of teachers deserve to keep every dime they earn.”

CL4E also recently conducted a poll taken June 8-14 of 800 registered voters regarding union requirements. In line with the Supreme Court decision, respondents believed that government workers, including teachers, should be allowed to stop paying union dues by nearly a two-to-one margin.


ABOUT CL4E: Conservative Leaders for Education is a campaign comprised of leading state lawmakers and education chairs focused on ensuring conservative principles gain traction in state policy decisions. CL4E is a 501(c)3 that does not affiliate with any political party. Learn more about us at

CL4E Poll — Americans Overwhelmingly Agree: Teachers Should Have the Right to Reject Union Dues

Supreme Court Decision in Janus vs. AFSCME is Expected Soon

ALEXANDRIA, Va.June 21, 2018 – Based on a poll taken June 8-14 of 800 registered voters, respondents believe that government workers, including teachers, should be allowed to stop paying union dues by nearly a two-to-one margin.

Mark Janus is a public employee from Illinois who has taken his case for the freedom to stop paying AFSCME to the U.S. Supreme Court. He believes that being forced to pay a labor union as a condition of his employment is a violation of his First Amendment.

“The most striking finding from this poll is not just that conservatives support the right of teachers to reject mandatory union dues, but that most everyone agrees this right is sacrosanct,” said Karen Nussle, President of CL4E.

The question and responses were as follows:

Currently government workers in many states, including teachers, must pay dues to a labor union as a requirement of their employment whether they choose to participate in the union or not. However, the Supreme Court will soon decide if these employees may stop paying dues.

Do you believe that government workers should be required to pay union dues to represent them – or – should be allowed to stop paying dues if they choose?

33%: Should be required to pay union dues to represent them.
62%: Should be allowed to stop paying dues if they choose.

Beyond the overall response in favor of public employees’ rights, so too did nearly every subcategory agree:

  • Households with a family member that has a “a member of a labor or teacher’s union, or a state or federal employee” by a 52-45 margin
  • Independent voters by a 68-28 margin
  • “Lean to Democrats” combined with “not-so-strong Democrats” by a 56-35 margin

Conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, 440 interviews were took place on landlines and 360 by cell phone. The margin of error was +3.46%.

ABOUT CL4E: Conservative Leaders for Education is a campaign comprised of leading state lawmakers and education chairs focused on ensuring conservative principles gain traction in state policy decisions. CL4E is a 501(c)3 that does not affiliate with any political party. Learn more about us at

Also available on PR Newswire

CL4E Chairman Bennett and President Nussle: No, Teacher Strikes Do Not Help Students

There is a fundamental problem in education that has been on vivid display recently: confusion about whom our schools exist to serve. Our public school system exists to give our children a foundation in literacy and numeracy and to help them become informed citizens. It is not the purpose of the public schools to use children as leverage for the gains of others.

Only that base misconception could drive mass school closures and disruptions right in the midst of a critical time in the school year. Only that misconception could lead adults to go on strike, thrusting chaos and untenable choices on the most vulnerable families least able to cope with abrupt changes in the routines of their children.

We strongly believe in the importance and honor of great teaching and teachers. We believe policymakers should set budgets so that the best teachers are attracted and retained. Those decisions must be made at each state and district level.

We strongly disagree that adults in our public schools should use systematic disruption of students and families—that is, strikes or walkouts—as a tactic to secure financial outcomes. There are several basic reasons for this:

[Read More in Education Week]

Secretary Betsy DeVos: CL4E’s “State Legislative Leadership Can Make a Huge Difference”

By Karen Nussle

Last week, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute convened a summit on education in response to the 35th anniversary of the Nation at Risk Report. The Institute not only brought together bipartisan leadership from previous administrations, but also current education stakeholders and champions.

CL4E’s Chairman Dr. William Bennett had the opportunity to interview current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The two secretaries touched upon the challenges they faced, insights they gained from interacting with students, and experiences they learned from visiting a variety of schools.

More importantly, Chairman Bennett and Secretary DeVos examined the recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2017 Score results. Overall scores have made very little positive shift, while per-pupil spending has gone up by almost 75% over the last 35 years. As Secretary DeVos described, “this is not something we are going to spend our way out of, and this is not something we are going to mandate or regulate our way out of either.” In order to improve these scores, she noted, change needs to happen at the state and local levels. This is a key principle for CL4E – local control.

Chairman Bennett noted with the Secretary that CL4E’s role is to convene these state policymakers and create an environment for them to “compare notes, find out what works, and see if the policy is replicable.” As Secretary DeVos concurred, “state legislative leadership can make a huge difference” in student outcomes.

CL4E will continue to assist state and local policymakers to implement conservative education policy around our key principles of local control, parent choice, accountability, and quality content. As noted by Chairman Bennett and Secretary DeVos, our education systems still need work, and our organization will continue to seize the day and create a brighter future for our children.

To view the full interview click here.

Karen Nussle currently serves as the President of Conservative Leaders for Education.

CL4E Chairman Dr. William Bennett: Georgia’s Consortium for Advanced Technical Training is Sending Students in the Right Direction

I have long encouraged those interested in improving our public schools to look to state and local leaders for the ideas that will have the most success and help students.  That is the fundamental idea behind Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E), a group of state policy leaders I helped found two years ago that is dedicated to improving our schools by developing and implementing practical solutions to problems.

One of CL4E’s members, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, recently exercised exactly that kind of leadership. It is an example worth taking a closer look at.

A few years ago Lt. Governor Cagle led an effort to launch a new program — The Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (GA CATT) — that creates a new pathway for students to achieve simultaneously a solid academic foundation and an industry-recognized certificate in a high-value career.  Thanks to the commitment of private sector manufacturing partners, high school apprentices receive valuable hands-on training, personal and career mentoring, and up to $25,000 in compensation for their work while in the program.  These students will graduate ready to accept high-skilled, high-paying jobs in some of Georgia’s most advanced industries.  GA CATT is the first program of this specific kind in the nation, explicitly structured on a German Apprenticeship model that has been successful for decades in preparing students for these kind of excellent career opportunities.

But as GA-CATT was implemented there was a problem.  The model requires students to enter the program sequence in their sophomore year, when students are often 15 –years-old.  However, an outdated federal labor regulation prohibits any 15- year-old from participating in any apprenticeship or career and technical education (CTE) program at the site of any manufacturer.

So although the student’s school district, the state Department of Education, and these cutting edge businesses had all developed a careful plan for all activities for these students, which involves absolutely no production and is modelled on the same program successfully in place for decades in Germany – an old federal labor regulation still blocked their participation in the new program.

Fortunately, Lt. Governor Cagle did not give up, which is not surprising given he has long championed education as “the great equalizer.”  Also, fortunately, we have new leadership in the agencies in Washington D.C. that believe in state and local control.  The Lt. Governor went to work on a solution for these students and with the support of CL4E and others, the federal Department of Labor recently granted a special approval and waiver of the old regulation for GA CATT to be implemented as designed.

This was a big win not only for the students who will have full access to this cutting edge CTE opportunity, but also for those who know that state and local leaders are the ones to trust in developing truly effective educational initiatives.  There has been much talk in recent years about the need to invigorate CTE programs, but a lot more talk than action.  The nation is sorely in need of more diverse models that successfully prepare and transition students into great careers.  GA CATT is real action on one such model, and action other states developing new CTE options can look to.  This is federalism at work, and a great example of a state policy leader putting practical, conservative thinking into implementation – exactly what CL4E exists to help advance.

Unfortunately, that outdated federal regulation remains on the books as a hurdle for other states. Every step should be taken at the federal level to remove these kinds of barriers to new state CTE approaches and at the state level to develop multiple rigorous CTE paths for students that lead them into successful career opportunities.

But today, Lt. Governor Cagle and the state of Georgia deserve thanks for taking a big step in the right direction.

William J. Bennett is the former Secretary of Education and currently serves as Chairman of Conservative Leaders for Education.


CL4E Chairman Dr. William Bennett: Refocusing the Conversation in Alabama

In a recent opinion piece, Alabama State Board of Education Member Mary Scott Hunter, refocused the conversation on the results of the state’s new A-F grading system. While the initial evaluation of the state’s schools, districts, and the overall education system were surprising and disturbing, Mary Scott took this opportunity to call upon parents to examine where schools are struggling to produce solid results and how communities can foster a better learning environment for our children.

As a state education leader and mother, Mary Scott’s call to action for involvement is the right direction. A-F grading systems, and other statewide evaluation tools are not always the perfect method nor do they answer every question. But they can be an important tool to give local leaders more information and a good starting point when it comes to examining how they can improve outcomes in critical measures like academic achievement and growth, graduation rates, college and career readiness, and chronic absenteeism.

During my time as Secretary of Education in President Reagan’s Administration, we sought to find areas where parents, educators, and community members could take control at the state level and reform local education systems. Similarly, these report card results empower Alabamians with better information to really reshape their education systems and their evaluation methods.

I commend education champions like Mary Scott Hunter who are seizing the opportunity to use these results as a way to engage families and communities across the state. With this strong state and local leadership, I look forward to the improvements that will be reflected in Alabama’s report card in years to come.

William J. Bennett is the former Secretary of Education and currently serves as Chairman of Conservative Leaders for Education.