The state Senate voted Monday night to strip public school teachers of their collective bargaining powers — the most contentious item on the Republican agenda to undermine the teachers’ union.
The bill’s supporters, which include the state’s association of school boards, insisted it will foster more collaboration between teachers and administrators. In place of collective bargaining, the bill requires school boards across the state to develop employment manuals on pay, benefits and working conditions for teachers after holding public hearings and giving teachers and the public time to comment.
“This bill, as amended, is all about empowering school boards,” Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, said before the Senate voted 18-14 for his bill. “We have tens of thousands of teachers in this state who are not a member of the teachers’ union. They choose not to join that union. In doing so, they lose their voice. No teacher should be prohibited from voicing their opinion. I believe the public policy of the state should be that we listen to all teachers, not just members of the teachers’ union.”
The Tennessee Education Association says Republicans are retaliating because the TEA refused their demands to give more campaign contributions to GOP candidates in last year's elections. Hundreds of teachers marched to the Capitol for a protest rally earlier in the session.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, bemoaned what he called the end of bipartisanship on education that helped the state win $501 million in President Obama’s Race to the Top competition last year.
“Last year, we had Race to the Top,” Berke said. “This year, we have dive to the bottom.”
He said the Republican bill “divides and polarizes our community.”
“If we are to achieve a better future for our children, we must hire, train and keep our best teachers. Demoralizing them by targeting them with political gestures serves the opposite purpose,” Berke said.
Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, noted, "This act is titled the Advancement of Student Achievement Act." He said, "It might better be called the Advancement of Teacher Oppression Act."
"Don't seek to muzzle our teachers and stifle them," Herron told the Senate.
Republicans also have filed bills to 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 companion bill in the House has been amended to allow collective bargaining for pay and benefits but not for other matters, such as merit pay. The Senate proposal was amended to require the policy manuals as a way to win House support for an outright repeal of collective bargaining. House Speaker Beth Harwell has said representatives will go along with the Senate bill.