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AAE State Policy Update June 20, 2011
posted by: Ruthie | June 20, 2011, 04:24 PM   

With the 2011 legislative session at an end in many states, the dust is now settling on some of the most sweeping education and labor reforms we've have seen in generations. While each state has experienced reform and change on different levels, it is impossible to ignore the ground-breaking impact these laws will have on the future of labor relations and education across the country.

Idaho: In Idaho, State Superintendent Tom Luna has been on the defensive over his sweeping education reform laws dealing with technology, teacher accountability, and collective bargaining. As of today, union leaders have amassed enough signatures to put the laws on a November ballot for a potential repeal.

With the prospect of appeal gaining steam in the state, Governor Otter and Superintendent Luna have been stumping for the laws since last week, hoping to sway the public their way. Luna stressed that these engagements are not campaign speeches but a way to inform the public about their positive impact. "As superintendent, you give a number of speeches every week," he said. "We go out and we explain the laws to people because they're new laws. We do that every year."

New Jersey: The Garden State is seeing its fair share of headlines as tough-talking Governor Chris Christie has outlined a new pension and benefits plan that charges employees more to help support the underfunded retirement systems. The new tiered system will require teachers and other public workers to pay a portion of their health insurance premiums based on their income.

Over 25 union members were arrested after disrupting a Senate hearing on the bill last Thursday, with similar protests scheduled this week. "This is the defining moment for the labor movement in our generation," AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said in soliciting support. "Only through your presence in Trenton on Monday will we make the difference." Mr. Wowkanech was among the protestors arrested last week.

The bill is expected to be voted on in the Senate today, the same day the plan gets its first public hearing in the Assembly.

North Carolina: North Carolina is the latest in a series of states to pass a law aimed at making their state more charter school-friendly. The legislation ended a longstanding 100-school limit on charter schools and was signed into law by Governor Perdue last week, making it easier for charter schools to be incorporated.

The Republican-led legislature made eliminating the cap a top priority during this year's session. A bipartisan compromise bill passed by wide margins after GOP leaders watered down a broader measure that would have shifted more charter school authority to a new commission independent from the state board of education.

Ohio: On the heels of the success of Senate Bill 5 in Ohio, "We Are Ohio," an advocacy coalition that shares an address with the Ohio Education Association, announced last Friday that it had surpassed its goal in receiving enough signatures to put the controversial law on a referendum ballot.

Spokesperson for the group, Melissa Fazekas indicated that they had reached 714,137 signatures, far surpassing the requirement of the 231,139 signatures necessary to put a measure on the state's ballot.

While the signatures validity have yet to be verified, Governor Kasich has proceeded as normal, soliciting teachers for input on the performance-pay portions of the bill.

Tennessee: In January, Republicans took control of both chambers of the state legislature and the governor's office for the first time since the end of the Civil War. Taking on the teacher unions quickly became a top priority, as legislators introduced a bill overturning the 1978 law that gave teachers the privilege to negotiate union contracts with school districts.

Over the course of the session, the bill caused a firestorm of controversy, starting a political battle that ultimately culminated with the Governor signing the bill into law, severely crippling union power.

While supporters believe the law will prove to be a victory for taxpayers, support for the state legislature has dropped 20 percentage points since the beginning of 2011, according to a Vanderbilt University poll. Union leaders cite disapproval of the new law that outlines new forms of collective "talks" instead of bargaining.

Wisconsin: Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered Governor Scott Walker's budget repair law reinstated. The controversial decision has led many union leaders to re-organize their efforts in hopes of halting the law aimed at curbing union power, now shifting their energies toward the recall of six incumbent Republican state senators.

Volunteers plan to knock on doors this weekend in the six Republican districts to spread the word about Democratic challengers to the six targeted Republican senators, indicated Democratic Party spokeswoman Gillian Morris. Organizers hope that the recall of these targeted officials with shake up majorities in the legislature, allowing for legislative action.

The Democratic Party has also made recalling Walker a priority, but they are unable to start collecting signatures until this November. The recall elections targeting the nine state senators will be in July and August.

While no one can predict whether or not these laws will stand, both sides have amassed campaigns to take their case to the voters in their respective states. While certain laws are in limbo, make sure you understand your rights as an educator. For information on forced unionism in your state, visit AAE's online resources.

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