On the heels of the illegal Newton teachers’ strike canceling 11 days of school, a debate has continued in the Commonwealth. Should public school teachers be allowed to strike?

While both sides have aired the rationales for and against, what’s missing is a compromise to allow both teachers and families the power they seek. If public school teachers are to get the right to strike, families should get publicly funded educational choices in the form of education savings accounts (ESAs).

Since 1973, public employees haven’t been allowed to strike. The arguments for including teachers in this provision include that public schools are essentially a monopoly. Many families can’t afford alternatives. And even when they can, canceling school hurts all families.

Witness how families have scrambled to line up childcare so they can continue working. Look at the loss of learning time. And see the devastation to the 415 Boston students who attend Newton schools thanks to Metco. When you add this up on top of the challenges stemming from the absence of school during the pandemic, families and students have had a rough go.

Another argument for why public school teachers shouldn’t be able to strike is that there is a fundamental conflict of interest at hand: they are bargaining against the very people they serve in the taxpayers.

The arguments behind new proposed legislation to make teachers’ strikes legal are that the current law isn’t working. If it were, there wouldn’t have been seven teachers’ strikes in Massachusetts in recent years. What’s more, to make negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement credible, the unions need the leverage that the ability to strike provides, say proponents of the legislation.

If we take these claims at face value, the path forward is clear. It’s time to move beyond the public education monopoly of school districts in Massachusetts so that teachers can strike and families will have a viable alternative. Having access to 120 charter schools isn’t enough. Parents need access to education savings accounts.

ESAs are not vouchers. They are public funds deposited into a savings account that families can spend on a range of educational services—from school tuition to tutoring and online courses, and from therapy to enrichment activities like music lessons.

To date, 13 states have enacted ESA policies, including neighboring New Hampshire.

The result in other states has been a burgeoning set of novel educational choices for families.

For example, it has supported individual teachers dissatisfied with their public schools to strike out on their own and create a range of novel schooling arrangements to meet the reality that families and students have different learning needs at different times.

One of the fastest-growing segments of school enrollment nationwide is the emergence of educator-run microschools, which families often use their ESA dollars to attend. Newton’s own Kaipod Learning, a network of in-person microschools, is ironically one of the best examples of these small schools that typically enroll anywhere from 5 to 25 students (and up to 150 students in some cases) and offer families far more flexible schedules than traditional schools.

For those students who remain in public district schools—the vast majority most likely—their families could have the option of availing themselves of ESAs should their local teachers’ union go on strike. For each day a school was canceled, funds could be transferred from the district—savings from not paying the teachers for missed days of work—to the families’ ESAs so that they could afford other educational options and childcare.

Student learning need not halt, and unions could go on strike to argue for the conditions that they feel best set up teachers and students for success.

That would empower parents and teachers to continue to make progress and help places like Newton move forward for all of its stakeholders.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.