(MintPress) – While the teachers’ strike in Chicago may have winded down, the battle over the future of the education system is raging on across America, with unions clinging to collective bargaining rights and tenure policies. All the while, sponsored legislation continues to be dispersed and adopted by state legislators, who are looking to be the next Wisconsin.
As for the public, they’re caught in the middle of a public relations campaign that plays to the notion that teachers put themselves above their students — a presumption that’s wearing down on the spirits of educators who are eagerly seeking to explain to their neighbors that’s just not the case.
In Idaho, the fight is being taken to the voters, who will have an opportunity to cast their vote for issues relating to a pay-for-performance salary model and teachers’ tenure. Residents of South Dakota and Michigan will face similar questions on November ballots, with votes relating to tenure, salary and teacher dismissal policies.
For teachers and their unions, the move away from traditional control of the education environment is one that is sweeping the nation, with generic legislation being passed around amongst people who, largely, have no experience in the school system. The throwback on teaching unions is one that has become a public debate, too, with populations split between those who sympathize with teachers and those who think it’s time to change the system.
The outcome this November in Idaho, Michigan and South Dakota will provide another window into public perception of this issue, and, depending on the outcome, will play into the future of teachers’ unions throughout the nation.
South Dakota: An ugly battle in a friendly environment?
The state of South Dakota is known for its friendly perception toward teachers. With much of the state’s education system set up in rural areas, it’s not uncommon for communities to value their educators and for such individuals to have a certain level of respect within the community.
While that might be the case in small town America, it wasn’t the scenario at the state capitol in March, when legislators voted in favor of a bill (HB1234) that would take away local control of educators’ contracts.
The bill that was passed in South Dakota did three things.
First, it instituted a pay-for-performance salary model for all teachers — one that is based 50 percent on test scores. That’s traditionally been a problem for all teachers, as various factors play into test scores, and they are, arguably, not the best indicator of students’ performance in the classroom.
Second, the bill creates differential pay for teachers in the math and science departments, with educators ranked on a tier level. Those at the top two ranking levels are eligible for a $2,500 bonus. Those not teaching within those fields are not up for the prize.
Third, and perhaps the most alarming for teachers, is the elimination of the due process system. Now, in South Dakota, if a teacher is to be fired, they are required to receive a valid reason. After this, they have an opportunity to challenge the action in front of the Board of Directors. The new bill eliminates this. Teachers whose contracts were renewed after 2016 could, hypothetically, be fired without a given reason and would not have the chance to appeal the decision.
Now, the voters have an opportunity to repeal the legislators’ decision. Following the vote, the South Dakota Teachers Union had 90 days to collect more than 15,000 signatures — and so they did. After the petition was verified, in keeping with state law, it was cemented on the November ballot. Until then, the law remains on hold. If South Dakota residents turn out a “no” vote, the law will be shot down. If the reverse happens, teachers will regroup and forge ahead on a new playing field.
Sandra Waltman, communications director for the South Dakota Teachers Union, said the law would have negative impacts on the future of education in the state. Her organization sees the legislation as one that does not focus on the real needs of children, and one that takes away local control of the system.
“We think a lot of these decisions on evaluation and how we pay teachers should be left up to the local school districts,” Waltman said in an interview with MintPress. “We don’t see anything in this bill that would improve student achievement.”
Waltman said the bill that was passed in her state is part of a movement across the country, with similarly worded legislation popping up in state legislatures across the nation. Yet she’s confident. Already the lowest paid teachers in the nation, Waltman feels confident that the votes will favor teachers.
As for other states, though, the outlook doesn’t look so favorable.
A slam on Wisconsin’s border state
In Michigan, voters are being asked to cement collective bargaining rights into the constitution. Considering the wave of anti-union laws, including one in the state’s neighboring Wisconsin world, teachers and other union members are taking preemptive action. In March, Michigan also saw the Legislature pass a bill that prohibits public schools from union due collections through paychecks.
As is the case with many other states, a Google search for Michigan’s teacher union gives a second option, one which directs users to a faux page, entitled, “Teachers Union Exposed.” The same goes for South Dakota, where the battle is on.
Clearly, there’s an anti-union movement that spans the state. While the fight in Michigan may be different from South Dakota, the outcome will determine the direction of teachers unions in America.
On the Michigan Education Association website, organization President Steve Cook published a column Sept. 14 in which he lambasts the public relations machine working on behalf of those who oppose the referendum. Cook asserts that such advertising has encouraged rumors, including one that alleges a “no” vote would allow teachers to strike without receiving a fine.
“It’s obvious that the opposition will resort to lies and fake scenarios to undermine the real purpose of Proposal 2 — to restore the collective bargaining rights the Legislature stole from us in a power grab designed to destroy unions and the middle class,” he wrote. “Proposal 2 would give us the opportunity to bargain and have a voice in issues such as evaluation, seniority, the cost of insurance and layoff and recall.”
There’s a lot at stake in November, in terms of the future of education. While eyes will certainly be on the presidential race, union members and educators will be keeping a close watch on Idaho, Michigan and South Dakota.
The country has gone through a tug-of-war with the education debate, set off by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. His attack on unions certainly didn’t go without notice, as thousands rallied against his move to eliminate collective bargaining. While petitions were signed — enough to lead to a recall vote — those on the side of the labor movement lost in the end. It bolstered anti-Union advocates throughout the nation and sent a chilling message to the rest of the country.
Now, after the Chicago teachers’ strike, there’s a new sense of confidence among educators — one that could either be crushed or exalted come November.