It began in Wisconsin, but it’s not stopping there. When legislators in the Badger State moved to reform unions’ collective bargaining power earlier this year, their action not only stirred movement in their own state but sent a ripple effect across the nation. And it continues to spread.
As Charles Krauthammer noted in February, “Wisconsin is the epicenter. … When Gov. Scott Walker proposed that state workers contribute more to their pension and health-care benefits, he started a revolution.”
This revolution has extended to states near and far, including Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, and New Hampshire.
While much of the debate around the curbing of union power centers on its role in balancing the budgets of debt-laden states, this “revolution” is also profoundly important to promoting critically needed improvements in the nation’s education system.
This is because for years, unions have stood in the way of necessary reforms aimed at helping students and improving schools while at the same time protecting underperforming teachers. All of this has come at the cost of children’s education. Yet, with power to siphon money out of teachers paychecks—in many states teachers have no choice but to join a union and pay union fees—there really is no need for teachers unions to take into account the academic well-being of students. (Perhaps the late Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers, best summed up their view of children when he stated: “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”)
It’s critical that states put control of education back into the hands of those closest to the students—families and schools—instead of continuing to allow unions to call the shots.
To this end, closely following Wisconsin’s collective bargaining reform, Ohio passed similar legislation that “allows unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time, or pension benefits. It gets rid of automatic pay increases and replaces them with merit raises or performance pay.”
And just last week, neighboring Indiana passed a bill specifically designed to limit union power over schools, prohibiting “contracts between school districts and teachers unions from including anything other than wages and wage-related benefits.” Additionally, “the new law gives local leaders freedom by removing restrictions, such as contracts that limit the number of meetings principals can have with teachers.”
Indiana State Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett called the passage of the new law a “game-changing moment” for schools.
Illinois is also moving forward legislation that implements “new requirements for teachers to receive positive evaluations before they’re granted tenure—with the possibility of accelerated tenure for educators with sterling reviews.”
Similarly, head of Detroit Public Schools Robert Bobb is moving to limit union control, putting in place reforms to limit seniority protection, which often shields ineffective teachers from dismissal.
Further south, a law is moving through the Tennessee legislature that would similarly limit union control by throwing off unions’ collective bargaining power and providing school boards with the authority to set the standards of employment for teachers.
Out west, Idaho implemented laws just over a month ago to eliminate teacher tenure and prohibit collective bargaining on salaries and benefits.
Control of education should belong to those closest to the students, not union leaders. For too long the best interests of students have taken a backseat to the special interests of collective bargaining. But the tide is turning. Starting in the heartland and spreading through the nation, policymakers are moving forward to ensure that when it comes to education, children come first.