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State Education and Labor Policy Developments
posted by: Alix | April 25, 2011, 07:46 PM   

As the 2011 legislative session continues, states across the country are proceeding with legislation that seeks to curb union power and implement sweeping education reform. While the developments in Wisconsin and Ohio have seen the most media attention, there are a total of 729 bills currently pending in 48 states dealing with unions and union power, according to a database compiled by the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures. While not every state is making national headlines, the enormous amount of legislation is a sign of what will undoubtedly be the largest shift in union power in generations.

Illinois- The Illinois Senate this month approved a measure on education reform dealing primarily with teachers' collective bargaining. Among the provisions, written into the legislation are tougher standards for teachers who are deemed ineffective.

While other states are in a deadlock debate with local unions, Illinois worked through five months of negotiations with unions, teachers, parents and lawmakers to come up with solutions found in the pending legislation. While their legislation is not as broad as say, the law in Wisconsin, the unions efforts to work with the state is certainly a breath of fresh air.

Indiana- Last week the Indiana House approved a bill prohibiting contracts between school districts and teachers unions from including anything other than wages and wage-related benefits.

The House voted 52-40 in favor of the bill, which is part of Governor Mitch Daniels' aggressive education agenda. The proposal would put the limits on contract agreements between local districts and unions representing teachers and any other school employees, such as bus drivers, custodians and nurses, starting this summer.

Meanwhile, in regards to the state budget, districts are in talks with others to conserve funding by merging districts in the state in an effort to save money. The budget plan would eliminate extra grants to small schools but direct additional money to districts with at least 500 students to help them make up for that loss. This move is considered an organized effort to push smaller districts toward mergers.

Alabama- While the Alabama Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, successfully challenged a pay check protection bill, they are now in the midst of organizing rallies to "close tax loopholes" to raise money for the education budget.

The rallies this week are aimed at pinpointing more money for the state to spend on education. Governor Robert Bentley announced that his administration had begun the process of closing those tax loopholes. In a statement, Bentley called it an "issue of tax fairness."

The Alabama Department of Revenue estimates that the change would initially generate $30 million for 2012 education spending and approximately $17 million per year thereafter.

Wisconsin- State and local union officials said they have no intentions of giving up on efforts to repeal the bill that started the national controversy, despite the fact that their collective bargaining privileges may soon become obsolete.

Governor Scott Walker's bill limits collectively bargaining to wage increases only, prohibits employers from deducting dues from paychecks, and requires unions to hold annual votes to remain certified.

The law is currently tied up in court challenges and a statewide fight to recall legislators could possibly change majorities in the legislature. Despite the gridlock and the possibility of the law being overturned, unions are signaling that regardless of outcomes, the landscape for labor has been changed for good in Wisconsin.

Idaho- While the fight to repeal Superintendent Tom Luna's "Children First" plan is in full effect in Idaho, even yielding comment from the NEA president, the state is now debating ways of handling possible teacher lay-offs.

A school district in eastern Idaho plans to use a lottery system as a last resort to determine layoffs if budget cuts prove too costly. The Blackfoot School District revised its lay-off policy this month in response to a new Idaho law that addresses the "last in, first out" concerns. Public schools chief Tom Luna pushed for the change, arguing that districts, in response to state budget cuts, were being forced to fire some of their best and brightest teachers simply because they were the last employees hired.

Minnesota- Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has planned a visit to the state on Tuesday to talk about education measures he championed in his state during his two terms. Republicans who control the Minnesota legislature are pursuing several substantial changes to state school policy, including some that involving teacher tenure and evaluations.

Ohio- The union led effort to combat Senate Bill 5 is in full force in Ohio. While it is unclear whether the campaign will come up with enough signatures for a ballot referendum, the state is now focusing on the performance pay provision of the bill.

The plan, while not completely released, would replace automatic pay increases with merit raises or performance pay, effectively eliminating union-backed salary schedules and step increases of the 110,000 full-time public teachers in the state.

Don't see your state listed? Visit the database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures for the latest information.

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