As more school districts are sending their students home to learn online instead of in the classroom, a new study suggests the decision may be more the result of union pressure than the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study, Politics in the Pandemic: The Role of Unions in School Reopening Decisions, by Will Flanders for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) says the presence of a teachers union increases the likelihood that a school district will choose virtual education over in-person education.

“With more and more evidence accruing that in-person learning has not been a key driver of the spread of COVID-19, the decision-making by Wisconsin school districts deserve more scrutiny and accountability,” said Flanders, the director of research for WILL. “Doing what’s best for students needs to remain a top priority.”

The study looked at more than 400 Wisconsin school districts and “the factors that contributed to whether a school opened in-person or continued virtual classes this fall.”

The study found unionization and politics were more important to the decision to close the schools than the threat of the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

From the study:

Union presence predicts a school going virtual. Districts with a teachers union were more likely to go virtual than districts without a teachers union.

Political ideology predicts a school going virtual. Districts with a higher percentage of votes for President Trump in 2016 and 2020 were more likely to open, while those with a higher percentage for Hillary Clinton were more likely to remain shuttered.

COVID-19 cases in an area were unpredictive. The per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases in an area was not significantly predictive of whether a school district would reopen or not.

Districts with more low-income children are more likely to go virtual. As the percentage of students in a district who are low income increases, so does the likelihood that the district will have chosen virtual education for the fall.

“Consistent with evidence from other school related policies, union presence does play a role in the policymaking process when it comes to COVID-19,” the study concludes. “But the virus brings some additional factors to bear as well. The fact that infection rates do not play a significant role in determining whether or not to reopen a school is the most striking result of this analysis. Instead, it is partisanship and union presence that are the main drivers of the decision to reopen or not.”