The problem of continual academic mediocrity that plagues America’s public school system can be laid at the door of union monopolies. That’s the message of The Cartel, a new documentary that will show this Sunday at 12 pm at the Washington, D.C. Independent Film Festival. The film documents the abuses of power exercised by teacher unions, specifically in the state of New Jersey, and the adverse effects such control can have on student achievement and parents’ fight for school choice.

The movie shows scenes of school buildings with new facades and million-dollar football fields juxtaposed with statistics of failing high schools and abysmal reading proficiency scores across the state. New Jersey is known for its extravagant education funding, currently spending over $350,000 per classroom in some of the state’s worst performing school districts. Why should a state with one of the highest public education budgets in the country boast meager academic achievement?

The inability of school districts to fire poorly performing teachers because of union tenure rules, coupled with an expensive and excessive administrative bureaucracy demanded by the same union, leads to an inefficient use of state funds and an ineffective education system. Similarly, when families and communities move to implement voucher programs, teacher unions cry foul, claiming such programs would supposedly drain money from already struggling public schools. What is the motivation for keeping bad teachers in classrooms, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on renovation projects, and denying families the power of school choice?

As a principal who was fired for his request to take action against teachers watching pornography while in school, states in the movie:

You keep quiet if you want this high-paying position; or you take a stance and you’re going to lose your job. And they’ll put your name in the newspaper, which means you’ll never be employed again. Because they play dirty, because there’s so much money involved.

While the movie investigates the power of teachers unions in New Jersey and demonstrates the negative impact such tactics can have on students, the film’s producer, Bob Bowdon, is quick to show support for teachers who care about educating their students:

Those good teachers deserve our respect. Wanting lousy teachers out of the classroom doesn’t mean you’re against all teachers. A point so obvious, I can hardly believe it needs to be made. This absurd idea that you have got to support every teacher, or else you hate all teachers, has been an effective myth put forward by the union for years.

The effects of teachers’ unions on school district governance and student performance is necessary to understanding many of the problems public schools around the country continue to face. Be sure to visit The Cartel website for screenings in the D.C. area and around the country.

Sarah Torre currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: