Public Education Prospers in Wisconsin Without Union Interference
Despite what the teachers unions say, teachers – not to mention children and taxpayers – can and do thrive without them.
In 2011, under Governor Scott Walker’s leadership, Wisconsin passed Act 10, the Budget Repair Bill, which, among other things, placed strict limitations on the ability of teachers unions to collectively bargain.
Walker very quickly became the most reviled man – no mean feat – on the lengthy teachers union hit list. Popularity polls in union halls placed him somewhere between Jack-the-Ripper and Adolph Hitler. If you Google “Scott Walker idiot” you will get enough hits – from the unions, progressive media and fellow travelers – to keep you busy till the summer solstice.
But what has really been going on in the Badger State since Act 10 became law?
The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty decided to take a look. WILL wanted to see if the claims that Walker’s budget cuts would take a toll on students and school districts were true, and went to teachers, superintendents and school board members to find out. Its report specifically deals with three areas: merit pay for teachers, flexibility in hiring and firing, and collaboration between administrators and teachers.
Merit pay replaced the industrial style step-and-ladder method in which teachers were paid by years on the job and how many – frequently useless – “professional development classes” they took. Using a variety of student achievement metrics, successful teachers across the state were rewarded. Not all districts do it the exact same way, but all center on teacher effectiveness and not the ridiculous union mandated “objective” pay scale. The result has been a big savings for school districts, which they then pass on to their good teachers. What a concept!
Before Act 10, collective bargaining agreements made it very difficult for administrators to run their schools. For example, seniority dictated staffing decisions. As it did all over the country, the “last in, first out” policy led Teachers-of-the-Year to be let go before their less talented colleagues. But when unshackled by the union strait-jacket, districts and teachers can be more creative. As reported by WILL, “In 2011, Oconomowoc School District faced a budget shortfall of almost $500,000. In order to bridge this gap, the district reduced staff by cutting 15 teaching positions by qualification instead of seniority. In order to make up for the lost staff, the district offered the remaining teachers a $14,000 stipend to teach a fourth class. Such a drastic change would have been impossible before Act 10.” Other districts offered stipends to certain types of teachers that were in short supply in their districts.
Perhaps the most intrusive bit of union meddling prior to Act 10 came in the form of their self-appointed middleman role, inserting union reps between teachers and administrators. The unions were most fearful and vocal about this aspect of the law, claiming that Act 10 would lead school superintendents to “abuse their power and exploit teachers.” The doom-and-gloom predictions were epitomized by Kim Anderson, director of government relations for the National Education Association, who flatly claimed, “We view the events in Wisconsin as one of the worst attacks on workers’ rights and their voices in the workplace that we’ve ever seen.”
But at least thus far, workers voices are coming through loud and clear. David Krier, a school board member in the Cedarburg School District, says: “Teachers are visibly more responsive to instruction from the administration without collective bargaining, probably because they are more accountable to their schools directly. They are now extremely motivated to improve themselves, their teaching methods, techniques, skills. Teacher responsiveness to instruction and feed-back has greatly improved.”
What about teachers who have disagreed with their union’s stance on certain issues?
As Michelle Uetz, a teacher at Prescott School District notes: “Previously, I did not feel that my individual concerns and needs were important to the union. If I had a concern about something the union didn’t care about, I felt they wouldn’t make my issue a priority and was concerned that it would get lost in the bureaucracy. Now that the path is open for teachers to directly contact administrators, and vice versa, there has been a dramatic increase in teacher input at my school. It is important to teachers that we feel heard, and since Act 10, my district more frequently asks for input regarding changes we would like to see in our contracts. It’s a more collaborative environment without union politics involved in each detail.”
Glenn Shilling, Superintendent of Lakeside-Hartland School District said that after Act 10 was enacted, the school board could discuss issues like wages, insurance, etc., directly with teachers without a designated bargaining group.
One other bonus included in the report: Wisconsin taxpayers have saved $5.24 billion as a result of Act 10.
The report ends with a caveat not to make “over generalizations” about its findings. The next step for WILL, which will be addressed in an upcoming study, is a “deeper economic analysis of the non-fiscal impact of Act 10 on school districts, teachers, and students.” But so far, the results are quite promising. Scott Walker’s law has helped teachers, kids, administrators and taxpayers prosper. The only losers are union honchos and their friends…who still insist that Walker is an idiot.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.