Senate Republicans hailed it as a historic opportunity for education reform, but Democrats accused the state GOP of “demonizing public school teachers” with legislation to repeal their right to negotiate contracts with school boards.
“We have dealt with a lot of bad bills regarding teachers this session, but this may be the worst,” Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, said after the Senate voted 18-14 Monday night to repeal collective bargaining by teachers. “Teachers were deliberately ignored and deliberately targeted by the sponsors and supporters of this legislation.”
But Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said, “Union contracts have hamstrung our local school boards for too long. More than a year ago, our state raced to the top and planted our flag as a beacon for education reform in the nation, but our journey is not over.”
The bill would repeal the collective bargaining law enacted in 1978. That gave teachers the right to form unions and negotiate contracts with school boards. The bill calls for school boards to hold so-called collaborations with teachers on pay and benefits, but no agreements are necessary.
“In 1978 the General Assembly gave a monopoly to one government union and allowed that union to strangle the hope of education reform in this state,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood. “This bill rectifies that mistake and gives power back to locally elected school boards and teachers. The passage of this measure is necessary if we mean to continue on the path of education reform we have embarked upon.”
“We have a historic opportunity to make this session of the General Assembly a landmark for the cause of reform,” Johnson said. “This bill creates a collaborative environment between teachers and their local board, which will ultimately result in putting a quality teacher in every classroom.”
The companion House bill prohibits collective bargaining on merit pay and other issues but continues to allow it for base pay and benefits. House leaders have said they will change their bill to the outright repeal in the Senate version.
Republicans denied they are trying to bust the teachers’ union to dry up a source of campaign cash for Democrats. That is the contention of the Tennessee Education Association, which represents 52,000 teachers. In a press release, Senate Democrats said Republicans were “demonizing public school teachers.”
“All of these bills are about one thing: political payback,” said Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere. “None of this legislation is going to raise a single test score or improve a single child’s education. A teacher’s work environment is a child’s learning environment, and both get worse every time one of these bills passes.”