Bills targeting teachers' unions spur some to suggest state Republicans playing politics

Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 9:05pm
Casada.jpg
Glen Casada

The Tennessee Education Association is on the defensive in the state legislature with some leaders of the new Republican majority pushing an aggressive agenda to undermine the teachers’ union.

Republican lawmakers have filed bills to strip the TEA of its collective bargaining powers, unseat TEA representatives from the teachers’ pension-governing board, and end automatic paycheck withdrawals for membership dues for public employee unions. Another bill would ban labor organizations, including the TEA, from giving to political campaigns. 

The bills’ sponsors describe their goals as cost-cutting and altruistic reform of government and politics. But TEA officials contend the legislation is payback for the union’s contributions to Democrats in November’s elections, when Republicans took firm control of the legislature.

“Some of the Republicans are just acting like schoolyard bullies,” said Jerry Winters, the TEA’s lobbyist in Nashville. “They’re trying to make us pay a price for not supporting some of their candidates last fall. Some of the proposals that have been put forth, they don’t have anything to do with education reform. They are just attempts to poke TEA in the eye and to try to silence the collective voice of teachers.

“We did give to a number of Republicans last time, but obviously, it wasn’t enough to satisfy some of their leadership. I think we’ve got more Republican friends than they think. If they viewed that election last year as a mandate to take it out on our children’s teachers, I think they’re wrong. We’ll see as these bills come up, but I think they’ve misjudged the situation.” 

Rep. Mike Turner of Old Hickory, the chairman of the House Democratic political caucus, points out that some of the bills also undercut other unions, including the Tennessee State Employees Association. 

“The Republicans have declared war on middle-class people, people who get up and go to work every day,” Turner said. “They’re talking about taking rights away from state workers and teachers. It’s an all-out war on the middle class.” 

Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, said his bill to end automatic paycheck withdrawals is intended only to save cities and counties the administrative costs. Regarding another of his bills, he said he wants to ban unions’ political contributions because state law already prohibits campaign giving by corporations. 

“If the goal is to keep outside money out of politics, then it should apply to unions as well,” Casada said. “However we decide to do it, we should treat corporations and unions the same.” 

Rep. Debra Maggart of Hendersonville, Turner’s Republican counterpart in the House, said her bill to repeal the state’s collective bargaining law wouldn’t hurt teacher salaries and would free school boards to spend more time improving classrooms. Teachers in most of the state’s school districts engage in collective bargaining through the TEA to negotiate contracts. But in the 45 districts that don’t, salaries aren’t significantly lower. The TEA represents 55,000 teachers and other educators. 

“You’re going to see some of us file some legislation that probably the old guard’s not going to like,” Maggart told the Tennessee Report website. “I think that it’s an opportunity to try to look at things in a different light and try to do what’s best for kids and maybe not focus so much on the interest of the adults.” 

In state legislatures across the country, newly empowered Republicans are backing similar measures against teachers’ organizations, the party’s traditional nemesis in election campaigns. After its successes in last year’s elections, the GOP now controls more state legislative seats than it has in more than 80 years, and it has the majority in both lawmaking chambers in 25 states including Tennessee, according to Education Week

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam also is preparing to advocate changes that could curtail the power of the TEA. He wants to reduce job protections for teachers and to expand charter schools, which typically are non-union workplaces. 

TEA officials met with the governor last week to discuss his proposals. Haslam offered only vague generalities about his plans but did express an openness to hear the union’s own ideas at some point, Winters said. Haslam, who took office on Jan. 15, has yet to name an education commissioner. 

Last year, the TEA was forced to concede ground on the state’s tenure law under pressure from then-Gov. Phil Bredesen and both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature. That change in the law, which tied teacher tenure to student test scores for the first time in this state, helped Tennessee win $500 million in President Obama’s Race to the Top competition for innovations in education. 

Turner argues it’s a betrayal of the teachers’ union to go back on that deal only a year later. 

“They gave up a lot of protections because they thought it was the best thing for Tennessee, and now we’re going to turn around and try to take more protection away from them? Education is going the right way here in Tennessee. We’ve had a bipartisan effort, Republicans and Democrats holding hands going the right way. Now they’re going to draw a wedge right down the line and split it up?

“Democrats are not going along with it. It’ll be a nasty, drawn-out fight,” Turner said, although he concedes that with its large legislative majority, the GOP “can sell the dome off the Capitol.”    

14 Comments on this post:

By: morpheus120 on 1/31/11 at 7:15

Casada said. “However we decide to do it, we should treat corporations and unions the same.”

Except that they're not.

Corporations are for-profit.

Unions are non-profit.

By: govskeptic on 1/31/11 at 7:17

I'm surprised that after 20+ yrs of falling student grades and
graduation rates that Mr. Woods still clings to the thoughts
that the new legislature should want to change some serious
problems. Tenure has been a protected turf of the TEA for
ever and it is, in facts, a big part of what's wrong in the system!
It's also been a protection the Democratic Party has used to
get TEA support for far too long and needs to be changed and
changed quickly, not for votes but for children's education!

By: morpheus120 on 1/31/11 at 9:56

Bullpuckey, Gov.

You can't demonstrate anywhere that getting rid of the teachers union is going to improve education.

And don't give me the BS about how the non-unionized charter schools do better. They don't, even though they get to pick and choose who their students are (which public schools cannot).

Bottom line is that the only reason Tennessee got the Race to the Top money is because the TEA agreed to some reforms and changes that could actually hurt their members. And this is the thanks they get for making those concessions.

The TEA ought to be on the phone with U.S. Dept. of Education secretary Arne Duncan yesterday about how the legislature has violated the spirit (if not the actual terms) of the Race To the Top application and have him re-visit Tennessee's award.

The GOP may just have jeopardized hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding because of their war against school teachers. For this, they all deserve to be thrown out of office.

By: Alphadog7 on 1/31/11 at 10:05

It has nothing to do with playing politics, it is all about BREAKING UP THE NETWORK THAT PROTECTS THE FAILING STATUS QUO and is an impediment to improvement. Parents should demand this legislation, its long overdue. Of course they would play the "politics" card, though, not surprised...

By: pswindle on 1/31/11 at 11:12

Some Governor! First he protects himself two ways; he signs a bill that says he does not have to release his business holdings or income. It doesn't matter if it is a conflict of interest. Then he signs a deal to let underground gas tanks keep on polluting our soil and water. Now, he wants to get rid of teachers' unions and all unions and that way the working people have to take the crumbs that is thrown their way with no one to bargain. TN, you had better wake up and see what the GOP is doing to us But the statement that he made, "He did not know that by his signing the bill about the gas tanks would save his busineses millions. Bull! Who believes this? He doesn't care about anything but the bottom line. I can't believe that TN fell for this little boy behavior, but Mommy, I didn't know.

By: AmyLiorate on 1/31/11 at 12:51

If unions would stay out of politics then maybe politics would stay out of unions!

morpheus, unions are for profit. The profit is in the members salaries!
Only the middleman appears to be non-profit.

Personally I think this story just sounds like a bunch of finger pointing. But it underlines the problem with teachers unions; they focus on teachers and their benefits.

I'm not opposed to everyone getting the best, but the NEA and related groups do not always have the students best interests in mind.

I wonder why the TEA didn't make more donations to Republican candidates. As I have heard they only donated to Republicans who weren't facing any real opposition. How quaint!

Maggart's turf is Sumner, and in that county the TEA can't even show that it has the required number of members needed to be the legitimate "bargaining power". Funny how the union keeps all mum on their membership and played games when requested to tell. Now they who wants to say the others are "playing politics"?

By: girliegirl on 1/31/11 at 1:04

Bruce Randolph was a middle school when it opened in 2002. In 2007, Denver Public Schools gave Bruce Randolph School permission to operate autonomously. It was the first school in the state to be granted autonomy from district and union rules.

Each teacher then had to reapply for his or her job. A published report said only six teachers remained.
only SIX (6) teachers remained.

This is the school mentioned by Obama in his SOTU last week.

http://michellemalkin.com/2011/01/30/school-obama/

By: yesIamateacher on 2/1/11 at 12:15

I have received a copy of a letter sent by Sen Johnson and Reps Casada and Sargent from Williamson County "explaining" their support of all of these anti-teacher bills. It is a pitiful attempt to rationalize an attempt to remove a teacher's choice of being represented by a professional association. I want to keep my option for representation, if I don't want to be in the union I will not join. If enough teachers don't want to be in the union, the union will be decertified. The letter also states that all communication from teachers must go through their union rep - this is not true, I can talk to anyone I want to about any issue I choose to, that is my right as an American. Unfortunately an individual does not have to be listened to, so that is why the TEA and its affiliates are so important for teachers. Does TEA represent the interests of teachers - absolutely, because who else will? Johnson, Sargent, and Casada - keep your nose out of my business, the state has no reason to interfere in the relationship between a school board and its employees. Go out and work on solving real problems, not making up problems to settle old scores now that you are in power.

By: GUARDIAN on 2/1/11 at 10:48

GUARDIAN-morpheus "SDASTHU" Unions are evil just like their mother "Communism" They hide behind non-profit to destroy all of the American way of life they can. They have destroyed schools all over North America and the children of the United States of America. May they die a quick and painful death.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 2/1/11 at 12:40

Can somebody please explain to me why any high school and below teacher needs tenure?

By: MelHamilton on 2/1/11 at 6:05

Whoa !!! AmyLiorate
You have been sorely misinformed! Sumner county's finance director gave the required education association membership information to the sitting school board members and they or some of them refused to believe it. They were told by their own legal council that what they planned to do was illegal but they have since, illegally, denied the association bargaining rights. They have been stonewalling since October, apparently already knowing of Ms. Maggart's proposed legislation as they announced their decision to disallow future negotiations with SCEA on the same day as the legislation was filed. Now they are hedging their bets that the hateful bill will pass before they get slapped with a lawsuit.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/19/11 at 3:13

Moonglow1: can someone share what the state gratuation statistics are for those students attending private schools such as Harpeth Hall, Montgomery Bell, and others. It seems to me that the "cream of the crop" attend the private schools leaving the more challenged students to attend public schools. By segregating the more priviledged students into private schools, I would assume that the state "cherry picks" the data. Example: I am sure that the private school graduation rate is in the 98-99 percentile, leaving hte public schools in the 45 percentile, however the private students are most likely more intellectually advanced and more motivated as their parents are paying thousands for them to attend. In contrast the public students are left with no supplies and less support. So when you pick on the unions, you are picking on the right of poor students to have access to a qualify education. Teachers in public schools have many more challenges than those teachers in private schools.

By: Moonglow1 on 2/19/11 at 3:14

Moonglow1: can someone share what the state graduation statistics are for those students attending private schools such as Harpeth Hall, Montgomery Bell, and others. It seems to me that the "cream of the crop" attend the private schools leaving the more challenged students to attend public schools. By segregating the more privileged students into private schools, I would assume that the state "cherry picks" the data. Example: I am sure that the private school graduation rate is in the 98-99 percentile, leaving hte public schools in the 45 percentile, however the private students are most likely more intellectually advanced and more motivated as their parents are paying thousands for them to attend. In contrast the public students are left with no supplies and less support. So when you pick on the unions, you are picking on the right of poor students to have access to a qualify education. Teachers in public schools have many more challenges than those teachers in private schools.

By: Gary Lampman on 3/16/11 at 9:49

It is my belief that a Majority vote is exactly a Majority representation of the Teacher to dissolve representation of the TEA. A 30 percent vote is Not a MAJORITY! It still qualifies as a Minority. Rep Maggart and the GOP wants to rewrite fairness and Justice by changing the rules to suite them.Furthermore this State House has absolutely No Rights in staging a full assault on the TEA and the positions Members hold within this Foundation. They Clearly have crossed the line as representatives of this state.Attacking a non profit organization because they do not fit within their ideals of education. Namely Private Education!
Public education woes have Nothing to Do with the Teachers Unions,but it does have to do with the republican view to remove funding from Public schools to favor private schools .

George W Bush was thrown into this private education theme as he left more kids behind on his voucher Program. A unfunded Mandate that set the stage for todays further attacks.

Collective Bargaining attacks and stripping rights from Teachers are not about the children. Oh, Please stop the about the children routine. It makes me want to puke! Every Politician plays that very same poster child Trump Card! Jerry Lewis would be so Proud; if you would only donate.
Its Political suicide,vengence and empowerment for tea baggers.However,their thoughtless actions and outrage are only tearing away at the very fabric of reason and rational facts. I have communicated with Rep. Debra Maggart for some time and it does appear that the tea Bagger agenda has moved my representative to the right fringe. Beyond all reason and understanding it appears that the path of self Proclaimed insurrection is justified by religious fervor.
Republicans, May view Unions as the greatest threat to capitalist exploitation and undermining of workers and worker rights and excessive Greed. The truth be known is most republicans are right ,but they live under the illusion they are wealthy as well. Unions made workers rights what they are today. You attack Unions,You attack the Heart of the Middle Class!